The Government has rejected the Women and Equalities Committee’s recommendation to set a target and strategy to end disparities in maternal deaths. Published on Friday, 30th June, 2023, the Government’s response to the Committee’s Black maternal health report, says that a concrete target “does not necessarily focus resource and attention through the best mechanisms.” It continues “we do not believe a target and strategy is the best approach towards progress.”
The Government welcomed the Committee’s report and acknowledged “we must do more” to ensure maternity care is consistent regardless of ethnicity. The Government partially accepted one of the Committee’s recommendations and said NHS England will “carry out a scoping exercise” on a review of training curricula and continuing professional development requirements for all maternity staff.
The Government rejected the recommendation to increase the annual budget for maternity services to £200–350 million, which was also recommended by the Health and Social Care Committee, when Jeremy Hunt was its Chair, and the Ockenden report. The Government said, “the Delivery Plan sets out that NHS services will ensure the right numbers of the right staff are available to provide the best care for women and babies.”
The Government agreed to update the Committee on a six-monthly basis on the progress of the Maternity Disparities Taskforce, however declined to provide minutes and metrics for gauging the success of the Taskforce, saying there is “clear value” in flexibility and adaptability. It says pre-pregnancy care will be the focus for the Taskforce for the next twelve months but will keep suggestions for future focus under consideration.
The Government said each Local Maternity and Neonatal System has produced an Equity and Equality Action Plan which will be published by 31 March 2024.
In April, the Committee’s report highlighted “appalling” disparities in maternal deaths, referring to the latest available figures for 2018-20. Black women are almost four times more likely to die from childbirth than white women, Asian women 1.8 times more likely, and women in the most deprived areas 2.5 times more likely to die than those in the least deprived areas.
The Committee was concerned that the Government and NHS leadership have underestimated the extent to which racism plays a role in perpetuating inequalities.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said:
“The Government’s commitment to ending maternal health disparities is welcome, as is its promise to scope out a review of maternity staff training and update us on the progress of the Maternity Disparities Taskforce. However, I am afraid its response stops short of the significant action we need to end these appalling disparities in maternal deaths.
Our inquiry clearly found that without further funding, it will not be possible to implement measures such as continuity of care and to combat inequalities, due to considerable staffing shortages across maternity services.
We remain very concerned and will continue to apply pressure on the Government to make progress to end the disparities once and for all.”