New Clause 25 - “Secretary of State’s duty to report on disparities in maternal mortality rates

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 27th October 2021.

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The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report each year on variation in the quality and safety of England’s maternity services and disparities in maternal mortality rates in England, including the steps being taken to address these disparities and improve outcomes for patients.”

This new clause lays a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report on variation in the quality and safety of England’s maternity services and disparities in maternal mortality rates in England, including what steps his department is taking to address these disparities and improve outcomes for patients.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This clause, in the words of Ronseal, does exactly what it says on the tin. It lays a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report on variation in the quality and safety of England’s maternity services and disparities in maternal mortality rates in England. The report would include details of the steps that the Department was taking to address these disparities and improve outcomes for patients. We all know that this issue is of paramount importance and has been debated in the House several times recently. I hope that the Minister agrees that it is important that we take whatever steps we can to tackle all forms of inequality in our society and this is another example of how that manifests itself.

Covid has sharpened our awareness of health inequalities, but it is clear that it is not just with respiratory viruses where health outcomes can be staggeringly different for different groups. Maternity services are one of the areas where we can and must do far better. The Care Quality Commission report “Safety, Equity and Engagement in Maternity Services”, published in September, highlighted continued concern about the variation in quality and safety of England’s maternity services and presented analysis of key issues that persisted in some maternity services. It also highlighted where action was still needed to support vital improvements. In the UK’s poorest areas the stillbirth rate is still twice that in the UK’s most affluent ones, with pre-pandemic figures showing that babies in the poorest areas have a 73% excess risk of neonatal death. All mothers and babies deserve the very best care and it simply cannot be right that where people live might dictate the quality of the maternity care received. Action is needed to eradicate maternal inequalities.

It is not just geographical and socioeconomic inequalities that need to be tackled but ethnic inequalities. Evidence from MBRACE-UK––Mothers and Babies Reducing Risk Through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK––shows that the maternal mortality rate is more than four times higher for black women compared with white women. The maternal mortality rate for Asian women is almost twice as high compared with white women. Those inequalities are an injustice, and we need action to address them.

I recognise that many black, Asian and minority ethnic women also do not feel that they are listened to during childbirth. A lack of cultural competency and medical training means that complications are not always spotted early enough. For example, black women have shared experiences of how anaemia has not been picked up soon enough because of their skin colour. We really ought to be doing better than that.

The Government have said that they have hosted several roundtables with experts and have commissioned more research to better understand the issue. However, they believe that a target to address maternal mortality disparities would have limitations in improving the quality of care. Why do they hold that view? NHS England’s long-term plan includes targets for addressing health outcomes in other areas. We need action to address the unacceptable disparities in maternal mortality rates as well.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights found that over 60% of black people did not believe that their health was equally protected by the NHS compared with white people. As we know, covid has had a disproportionate impact on BAME communities.

If not a target, then a report would ensure accountability and focus minds to address these unacceptable injustices. New clause 25 would put explicit accountability on the Secretary of State not only to monitor and report on variation in maternity services but, crucially, to set out the steps needed to tackle it. We need a national strategy to address this country’s health inequalities, which must include serious and urgent action to end the mortality gap between black, Asian and ethnic minority women and white women. The new clause is, of course, not the complete answer, but I hope the Minister will agree that it would be a welcome step in the right direction.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Again, I am grateful to the shadow Minister. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish a report each year on variation in the quality and safety of England’s maternity services and on disparities in maternal mortality rates in England. Again, I understand the intention behind the new clause, which the hon. Gentlemen set out clearly, as it is paramount that we do all we can to ensure the safety of expectant mothers and their babies, which involves understanding and taking steps to address the variation in quality and safety of England’s maternity services and disparities in outcomes.

However, several organisations and bodies already publish reports each year on the variation of quality and safety of England’s maternity services and the disparities in maternal mortality rates. First, the CQC monitors, inspects and regulates maternity services across England to ensure they meet standards of quality and safety. Following an inspection, it provides findings, recommendations and an overall rating of the trusts. It also publishes monthly reports following inspections of maternity services and annual reports that explore areas for improvement in maternity services across England.

Secondly, “Better Births”, the report of the national maternity review, recommended that a nationally agreed set of indicators should be developed to help local maternity systems to track, benchmark and improve the quality of maternity services. In response, NHS England and NHS Improvement, in partnership with NHS Digital, have produced a national maternity services dashboard. The dashboard enables clinical teams in maternity services to compare their performance with their peers on a series of clinical quality improvement metrics, or CQIMs, and national maternity indicators, or NMIs, for the purposes of identifying areas that may require local clinical quality improvement.

Thirdly, MBRRACE-UK publishes annual reports on maternal deaths, stillbirths and neonatal deaths across the UK. Stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates are provided for individual NHS providers, commissioning boards, and local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and the Crown dependencies. It would not be possible to report annual maternal mortality rates by NHS trusts because the numbers are very small—it would not be a meaningful statistic. That would also potentially risk individuals being identified and could result in contravention of data protection legislation.

The reports by MBRRACE-UK also look at health inequalities; its analysis has identified significant differences in maternal mortality rates, which the shadow Minister mentioned, between women from black or Asian minority ethnic backgrounds and white women, and between women from lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Finally, the National Maternity and Perinatal Audit, or NMPA, is a large-scale audit of NHS maternity services across England, Scotland and Wales. The NMPA publishes trust-level data and evaluates a range of care processes and outcomes to identify good practice and areas for improvement in the care of women and babies.

We have also already proposed a new triple-aim duty in the Bill to ensure that NHS bodies, including NHS trusts, foundation trusts, ICBs and NHS England, have regard to the wider effects of their decisions. A key limb of the triple-aim duty is that those bodies must consider the impact of their decisions on the quality of services provided or arranged by relevant NHS organisations, including their own.

The Department has already set out details of the work it is doing to address disparities in care and outcomes for women and babies from different ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. On 6 September 2021, NHS England and NHS Improvement published their equity and equality guidance for local maternity systems, which focuses on actions to improve equity for mothers and babies from black, Asian and mixed ethnic groups and those living in the most deprived areas, and to improve equality in experience for staff from minority ethnic groups. The guidance asks local maternity systems to work in partnership with women and their families to draw up and publish equity and equality plans by 28 February 2022. The NHS will measure progress against its equity aims for mothers and babies through metrics set out in that guidance.

As set out in the Government’s response to the Health and Social Care Committee reports published on 21 September, the Department has also commissioned the University of Oxford’s policy research unit in maternal and neonatal health and care to undertake research into disparities in near misses, and into the development of an English maternal morbidity outcome indicator. The research will explore whether the indicator is sufficiently sensitive to detect whether the changes made to clinical care result in better health outcomes.

Due to the significant number of projects the Department has already undertaken in relation to the matter, and to avoid the potential additional burden of reporting and validating data on maternity staff and the duplication of the publication of information, I argue that—while I appreciate the intent behind it—the new clause is not necessary, and I would therefore encourage the shadow Minister not to press it to a Division.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 5:00 pm, 27th October 2021

I will disappoint the Minister this time. We will push the new clause to a vote, because we think that it is really important. While the Minister has set out a whole range of reports that have been issued and work that is being done, due to the scale of the injustice we have set out, there needs to be a concrete commitment from the Secretary of State to not only publish the data, but set out the steps he is taking to address the inequalities.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 40 Health and Care Bill — New Clause 25 - “Secretary of State’s duty to report on disparities in maternal mortality rates

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.