The U.K. government is not doing enough to protect Black women giving birth in the country, lawmakers have said in a new report.
Black women are almost four times more likely to die from childbirth than white women: an “appalling” statistic that’s shown little progress in recent years, lawmakers stated.
U.K women from Asian and mixed ethnic backgrounds are also more likely than white women to die within six weeks of giving birth.
Factors like racism in healthcare were likely being overlooked by both government and public health care system the National Health Service (NHS), members of parliament sitting on the Womens and Equalities Committee said.
Women who lived in poorer areas are also at a disadvantage when it comes to maternal outcomes, the report said.
Committee members also criticised a taskforce set up to address disparities in maternity care for failing to meet regularly and lacking “tangible metrics for success.”
Member of parliament Caroline Nokes, who chairs the committee said in a statement that although the country’s overall maternal safety statistics were some of the best in the world, the U.K. continues to see “appalling disparities in maternal deaths.”
Former Health and Social Care Committee Chair Jeremy Hunt said the government should commit to spending £200 to £350 million ($250 – $435 million) more per year on maternity staff back in 2021.
Nokes also expressed concern that ministers and the country’s public health system have “not fully grasped that racism has played a key part in the complex reasons underlying the disparities.” Eliminating racism in healthcare, she said, was necessary to ensure equality of care.
Inadequate data, she added, was holding back efforts to tackle inequality by leaving women “invisible to the systems supposed to serve them.”
“Government must be more ambitious and set a national target to end disparities,” she said. “It is frankly shameful that we have known about these disparities for at least twenty years. It cannot take another twenty to resolve.”
Tinuke Awe, who co-founded U.K.-based Black maternal health charity Five X More and who gave evidence to the committee said her organisation fully supported the report’s recommendations.
In an emailed statement, she told Forbes: “It’s good to see Black maternal health at the forefront. This report is a step in the right direction, it’s no longer just about acknowledging the issue.
“This report highlights all the progress that has been made in the last few years while addressing the urgent action that needs to be taken to improve Black maternal health outcomes.”
Last year, her organisation published its own report that recommended improving the quality of ethnicity data in health records.
“You can only start to see a true picture and improve things when you have the correct data sets,” she added. “Setting a target is also very important in decreasing the statistics so that the Government and the NHS can work towards clear tangible outcomes for Black women.”