To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the fact that Black women are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women.
My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register.
While births in England are among the safest globally, we must do more to tackle maternal disparities. Local maternity and neonatal systems have begun to publish action plans to tackle disparities in outcomes and experiences in maternity care at a local level. The Maternity Disparities Taskforce, which held a meeting on
I thank the Minister for that Answer. On
I would also like to ask the Minister about continuity of carer, which means having the same midwife throughout your pregnancy. It is a cornerstone of the Government’s and the NHS’s commitment to deliver safer maternity services, and indeed the report itself says that it is one of the ways to overcome barriers and improve communication and understanding throughout a pregnancy. When will the Government invest in the recruitment of midwives, bringing up their strength by 2,500, which the Royal College of Midwives says is essential to deliver this personalised care?
I thank the noble Baroness; there were a number of questions there. I accept that there is a disparity, which is why the Maternity Disparities Taskforce was set up. I was speaking to Minister Caulfield just this morning, and I assure noble Lords that this is very high on her agenda. That is why, in providing continuity of maternity care, the focus is on making sure that people from ethnic minorities, particularly black women, get priority.
My Lords, this is not a new issue. I am pleased to hear that the disparities task force has been set up, but can it look not just at the issues of workforce planning—there is a shortage of midwives—but at the additional antenatal care that black and ethnic-minority women need because of underlying causes, and at the care they receive during labour?
My noble friend is right. I was speaking to Minister Caulfield about this very subject this morning. She pointed out that a lot of the reasons for the differences are underlying health conditions and factors such as smoking, weight and alcohol consumption, as well as diabetes. Education is a key part of this, as is continuity of care, and making sure that there is prenatal and postnatal care is absolutely a focus.
My Lords, the NHS published equity and equality guidance in September 2021 aimed at improving maternal health for mothers and babies from black and other ethnic groups and those from the most deprived areas. However, no implementation plan or scrutiny mechanism has been developed, so how will implementation and adherence to these strategies and guidelines be assured? Who will report on progress, or the lack of it?
First, through its local maternity and neonatal systems, every ICB is responsible for publishing an equity and equality plan. It will then be the job of both the CQC and the maternity surveillance system to measure them against that plan and make sure it is being kept up. Every area is different, but each needs a plan to address this issue.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Maternity Disparities Taskforce meeting on
The noble Lord is correct that data is an issue. A lot of the frustration that Minister Caulfield expressed is about the fact that we are having to look in the rear-view mirror, because the data is about two years old. One of the fundamental things is to get that live data so that we can see what action works and where more needs to be done.
My Lords, it is also sad to note that the rate of black babies being stillborn is 6.9 per 1,000 births, as opposed to 3.6 per 1,000 for white babies. Can my noble friend the Minister please confirm that each trust is under an obligation to collect that kind of data and do specific research as to why a modern country has that really sad rate of higher mortality?
That is what the equity and equality plans are all about: understanding the local needs of an area. As I mentioned before, a lot of this is often due to the underlying health conditions of that ethnic-minority group. Also, many of us take for granted the fact that we are very clear on how to access medical services, but a lot of people from these ethnic minorities do not have the experience—for want of a better word —of accessing them. A key part of the plan also needs to be about how we can make this care accessible for all these groups.
Is the Minister aware of the findings of the 2015 Kirkup report into neonatal deaths in Morecambe Bay? Among its findings, it concluded that ethnic-minority women were on a number of occasions not given respect and agency by white British midwives, which may have contributed to neonatal deaths. Has that been looked at by the department, and what has been done since?
I am familiar with that report, and the more recent Kirkup report on east Kent mentions some of the same issues. That is why part of the investment has been in a training programme to make sure that the suitable cultural awareness is there, because the noble Lord is correct that this is an issue.
My Lords, institutionalised racism is a major factor in the higher death rate of black women during childbirth. Numerous surveys have shown that black women are paid far less for their work than their white counterparts, which reduces their access to good food, housing and healthcare. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is a necessary tool for developing policies to tackle institutionalised discrimination. Why are the Government opposed to introducing ethnicity pay gap reporting?
I do not think I would categorise this in any way in terms of institutionalised racism, and I do not believe that noble Lords would think that of the NHS. Clearly, work needs to be done on helping all ethnic minorities to access health services and on education, because there are many underlying conditions. That is what we are doing now. A few years ago, the numbers were quite a lot worse; black women were five times more likely to die in childbirth, but that figure is now 3.7. A lot more work needs to be done, but we are improving.
Does my noble friend accept that the term “institutionalised” is, in the words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, “ambiguous”, in that it means different things to different people? Can he define “institutionalised”?
The point I was trying to make is that I think all noble Lords would agree that the NHS does a fantastic job in addressing and reaching people of all ethnic minorities. That is something we can all support.
My Lords, the Minister omitted to answer the first question put to him by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath about the frequency with which the task force met and the gap between its last meeting and the moment at which its report was put forward, if I understood the question correctly. Can he answer that now?
My understanding is that since the task force was set up, which was little more than a year ago, it has had as many as four or five meetings. If that is incorrect, I will correct it. The latest meeting was on
My Lords, the Minister has referred a number of times to socio- economic disparities—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, referred to the issues of poverty. The MBRRACE report and others have shown the disparity in death rates that sees black women dying in childbirth four times more often than white women. Will the Minister acknowledge for the record that there is a tragic difference here—a higher number of deaths—that cannot be fully accounted for by pre-existing health conditions and socioeconomic disadvantage?
As I have said, this is a complex area. I do not think we understand all the underlying reasons. Underlying health is a reason, and access is another. What the statistics show is that there is a difference, which is why we are so focused on addressing it and making sure that everyone has excellent standards of maternal care.