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NHS to tackle racial bias in maternity care to reduce mother and baby deaths

Jane Weakley
Two extremely important initiatives were announced recently by UK healthcare services to tackle disparities in maternity care for women from ethnic minorities.

Black women are shown to be 40 per cent more likely to miscarry than white women and data highlight an almost two-fold difference in mortality rates between women from Asian ethnic groups and white women. Stillbirth and perinatal death rates are also comparatively high for black and Asian babies in the UK.

Birmingham currently has the highest rates of neonatal mortality and stillbirths at 11.4 per 1,000 and also records a high number of low birth weight of all babies and a high prematurity rate.

Read our previous comment on racial disparity in maternal deaths.
Now, the government Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, Maria Caulfield, will establish a taskforce of experts and co-chaired by Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent to try to understand the reasons behind failures in maternity care.
The taskforce will meet every two months to:

  • improve personalised care and support plans
  • address how wider societal issues affect maternal health
  • improve education and awareness of health when trying to conceive
  • better access to maternity care for all women and targeted support for those from the most vulnerable groups

Meanwhile, the NHS is piloting a new artificial intelligence pregnancy screening tool aimed to reduce racial disparities in baby death rates, designed by the Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement, led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. The current method for risk assessment has changed little since the the 1970s.

Trials of the tool involved more than 20,000 pregnant women. Researchers highlighted large racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes when standard screening was used, but reported much lower mortality rates when the new tool was used together with targeted care. The tool is being piloted in London, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Surrey.

It uses AI to interpret detailed data routinely gathered during a woman’s antenatal appointments to assess her personalised risk of complications developing during pregnancy.

In trials, the tool reduced baby deaths among mothers from ethnic minority backgrounds by 60 per cent. Pregnant women flagged as high risk by the algorithm received additional monitoring during pregnancy to alter care teams to act early to prevent problems and potentially save babies’ lives.

If you have been affected by sub-standard maternity care, you may have a medical negligence case.

Read more about birth injury claims to babies and birth injuries to mothers.

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