It is this Government who have recognised that maternal disparities do exist for black, Asian and minority ethnic women and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. That is why in February last year we set up the maternity disparities taskforce to tackle those disparities.
Does the Minister agree that we owe huge thanks to my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Black maternal health? Secondly, black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth and 43% more likely to miscarry. The Women and Equalities Committee’s report highlights that the Government are failing to act. Ironically, the maternity disparities taskforce meets every nine months instead of every two months. Will the Minister commit today to setting a binding target and providing properly resourced solutions to end this scandal and these disparities?
I am happy to place on record my thanks to Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who does fantastic work in this place. I should point out that the figure is lower than that—it is now 3.5—but it is still too high, and we are doing record amounts of work to try to reduce it. Only last month the NHS published its “Three year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services” with the aim of ending disparities in pregnancy and childbirth, and the maternity disparities taskforce is currently looking into pre-conception care, because many of those disparities are embedded years before a woman becomes pregnant.
Whether black women are 3.5 or four times more likely to die in childbirth, it is a shameful and inexcusable reality that that is the case in our country. The Women and Equalities Committee has been clear about the Government’s own failings in this regard, criticising a lack of accurate data, a lack of funding for maternity services, a lack of consistency of care across the country, a lack of representation of black women in the maternity disparities taskforce, and a downplaying of the role of racism in the issue. When will the Government get a grip on this disgraceful injustice, with the urgency that it demands?
It is entirely wrong to suggest that the taskforce does not represent black women, given that Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, its co-chair and one of the most renowned midwives in the world, is a black woman herself. She has been leading and driving forward this work, including work on local maternity and neonatal systems and the publication of equity and equality action plans; I am sure that the hon. Member has read the plan for her own area. Meanwhile, the Nursing and Midwifery Council is introducing standards including the expectation of cultural competence, NHS England is introducing workforce diversity and the “Getting to Equity” programme to ensure that aspiring ethnic minority midwives are promoted, and the maternal medicine networks are targeting black women in particular with the aim of improving their overall health during pregnancy. Significant work is being done in this regard.
It is very disturbing that there are such serious disparities in maternal health outcomes affecting black women. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government are looking into the causes? Until we know what it is causing the problem, we will not be able to solve it.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is why the taskforce is focusing on pre-conception care. Many of the disparities have been there for years before a woman becomes pregnant, and we are working with stakeholders to establish how we can improve access to pre-conception care, which will make a huge difference to the outcomes of pregnancy and birth.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, I have heard evidence suggesting that we can help women in this position by providing continuity of carer, which helps to expose lifestyle choices and experiences such as domestic violence that may affect people from ethnically diverse or social deprived backgrounds. What is the Department doing to expand that continuity of carer for those who need it?
I can reassure my hon. Friend: we are spending £7 million to ensure that 75% of black, Asian and minority ethnic women are being cared for by the same midwife during their pregnancies, because we know that continuity of carer improves outcomes for those women.
My understanding is that the figure for the black maternal mortality gap is actually 3.7, and that the gap is twice as likely to affect Asian women, while women living in deprived areas are two and a half times more likely to die than those in the least deprived areas. Scandalously, even before the pandemic hit, the number of maternal mortalities increased by 12% over the previous six years of Tory government. As the Minister said, the maternity disparities taskforce was supposed to be tackling this. May I ask her how many months elapsed between its last two meetings?
We absolutely recognise that these disparities have existed for decades, and we are the first Government ever to recognise that and to set up a maternity disparities taskforce to tackle the problems. We met on
The Minister did not answer my question, I think because she knows the answer. The taskforce did not meet for nine months, then it was suddenly convened the day after a damning report had been published. No Government who were serious about this would allow enough time for a baby to be carried to term to elapse between meetings; nor would they scrap continuity of carer targets—not mentioned by the Minister—or omit serious action against maternal disparities from their women’s health strategy. Labour would restore maternity services, training 10,000 midwives and nurses a year, paid for by scrapping the non-dom tax exemption. Why are the Government letting women pay the price for their failures?
The Government do not need to have a meeting to take action. We are working night and day to drive down these disparities, with £165 million going into funding maternity services overall. There is £95 million to pay for 1,200 more midwives and another 100 consultant obstetricians. I am sure the hon. Lady has read, page to page, the three-year maternity plan—
She says she has; I hope she has. The plan focuses on driving down inequalities in both maternal and neonatal care, and it would be great if we could have cross-party support for this groundbreaking work.