Maternity Disparities Taskforce to reduce maternity care inequalities

Maternity Disparities Taskforce
© iStock/damircudic

The UK Government has announced a new Maternity Disparities Taskforce designed to mitigate the inequalities experienced by women from ethnic minority groups and people living in deprived areas.

Developed by the UK Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, Maria Caulfield, and co-chaired by Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, the novel Maternity Disparities Taskforce will aim to explore the reasons behind poor outcomes currently in maternity care.

Current limitations

The UK Government has laid out plans to optimise maternity care, planning to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths, and brain injuries by 2025. Current estimates illustrate the scale of progress made, with the stillbirth rate reducing by 25% since 2010 and neonatal mortality rate falling by 29% – significantly outperforming the target of a 20% reduction by 2020.

However, despite this progress, there are still considerable disparities, of which the causes are still unknown. Research demonstrates an almost two-fold increase in mortality rates between women from Asian ethnic groups and white women, and they are also higher for black women. Moreover, studies have shown that black women are 40% more likely to have a miscarriage than white women.

One of the most deprived areas of the UK is Birmingham, which has the highest rates of neonatal mortality and stillbirths at 11.4 per 1,000. Birmingham also has an increased number of low birth weight of all babies (9.7% in 2018) and a high prematurity rate.

Minister for Women’s Health, Maria Caulfield, said: “For too long disparities have persisted which mean women living in deprived areas or from ethnic monitory backgrounds are less likely to get the care they need, and worse, lose their child. We must do better to understand and address the causes of this.”

“The Maternity Disparities Taskforce will help level-up maternity care across the country, bringing together a wide range of experts to deliver real and ambitious change so we can improve care for all women, and I will be monitoring progress closely.”

“As a nurse, I know how incredibly challenging the last two years have been and would like to thank all our dedicated maternity staff for their hard work and commitment throughout the pandemic.”

Maternity Disparities Taskforce objectives

The Maternity Disparities Taskforce will look to unravel the mechanism behind inequalities, analyse social factors linked to poorer health outcomes and tackle these issues plus enhance the health and wellbeing of women and their babies.

To achieve this, the Maternity Disparities Taskforce aims to:

  • Improve personalised care and support plans for mothers,
  • Address how wider societal issues impact maternal health, working with experts in other government departments,
  • Improve education and awareness of pre-conception health when trying to conceive, such as taking supplements before pregnancy and maintaining a healthy weight,
  • Increase access to maternity care for all women and develop targeted support for women from the most vulnerable groups,
  • Empower women to make evidence-based decisions about their care during pregnancy, such as the development of a new digital framework, which provides women with support to make informed decisions during labour.

The first meeting of the Maternity Disparities Taskforce is scheduled for 8 March and will be held every two months to track progress. The sessions will include specialists across the health service, mothers, the Government, and the voluntary sector, with membership to be published this month.

The initiative looks to build on recent progress made by the Government and NHS in improving care, having already invested £5 million in the Brain Injury Reduction Programme to minimise the rate of brain injuries occurring in babies during or shortly after birth. Moreover, the NHS is increasing the maternity workforce by investing £95 million into a recruitment drive to hire 1,200 more midwives and 100 obstetricians.

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said: “The NHS’ ambition is to be the safest place in the world to be pregnant, give birth and transition into parenthood – all women who use our maternity services should receive the best care possible, which is why the NHS is committed to reducing health inequalities, and our Equity & Equality guidance sets out how the NHS will do this. We welcome the extra impetus and support that the new taskforce will provide in tackling these important issues and look forward to participating in it.”

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We strongly welcome this new Maternity Disparities Taskforce, which will aim to tackle the unacceptable inequalities that exist for women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds when it comes to maternity outcomes.

“The colour of someone’s skin should never dictate whether they have a positive or negative birth experience. The RCOG’s Race Equality Taskforce is committed to working with this new taskforce to understand why these disparities exist and create meaningful solutions to improve healthcare experiences and outcomes for all ethnic minority women.”

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Director for Professional Midwifery, Mary Ross- Davie, said: “The disparities in outcomes and experience of maternity care for Black and Asian women and women from other ethnic minority backgrounds are shocking, so the RCM welcomes the creation of the Maternity Disparities Taskforce and is keen to be part of the work in finding solutions. The RCM has long called for more consultant and specialist midwife posts in Trusts and Health Boards to provide better support to women with pre-existing conditions such as increased BMI, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health conditions. In many parts of the UK, these midwife roles either do not exist or are very limited, yet they could make a huge difference to Black and Asian women in particular.

“There is some excellent work being done in some areas, so it would be good to see that experience shared across maternity services. Improvement of outcomes relies on sharing what works and what doesn’t so that we can bring about effective, consistent change. We look forward to working with colleagues on the taskforce to highlight the current problems and find ways to address them in a positive way.”

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