Reducing Baby Loss — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 20th July 2021.

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Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:39 am, 20th July 2021

I could not agree more, but we are doing nobody any favours whatsoever if we do not inform women of the impact of smoking and obesity during pregnancy. Before covid—some time ago—Public Health England had a huge emphasis on the negative effects of smoking during pregnancy, and we think we need to focus once more on the fact that 12.8% of women are smoking at the beginning of pregnancy and 10.4% are smoking at the time of delivery, as part of this approach to continuing to reduce the number of stillbirths. To keep that trajectory moving, we have to discuss all the reasons why and all the health implications during pregnancy.

A number of Members mentioned the continuity of care programme. We are committed to reducing inequalities in health outcomes and experience of care. In September 2020, I established the maternity inequalities oversight forum to bring together experts from key stakeholders to consider and address the inequality for women and babies from different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic groups.

In response to a direct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth, we wanted to see all women placed on the continuity of care pathway by March 2022, but that will not be possible. We are therefore focusing on having 75% of black, black British, Asian and Asian British women on the continuity of care pathway by 2024. We will have 20% of all women on that pathway at the same time. The issue of training on continuity of care was brought up, and that is the important point. We can talk about continuity of care pathways, but it is about having the right training in place and ensuring that those midwives who have those women on that pathway and are caring for them are trained in the particular inequalities that my hon. Friend mentioned. That is why it will take us to 2024, but we will have 75% of those ethnic minority women on that pathway by that date.

A number of Members mentioned covid-19. It has caused a huge amount of disruption to our lives. As Sarah Owen said, women have continued to have babies throughout that time. Maternity and neonatal services have worked hard to enable partners to be present during labour and birth. According to the latest information, all maternity partners are accompanying women to all antenatal scans and appointments in acute settings.

The hon. Member for Luton North also brought up vaccinations. She made the point that the Government need to ensure that all pregnant women are vaccinated. My daughter is 32 weeks pregnant, so no one has been more aware of that than me, but I am afraid that politicians do not make clinical decisions, and the Government are not the JCVI—the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is completely independent. The committee decides who is vaccinated.

After constantly asking why pregnant women were not being prioritised and taking a glance at the make-up of the JCVI, however, I was shocked to discover that it is made up of 14 men and three women, so I am unsurprised at the JCVI not emphasising or prioritising pregnant women for vaccination. Again, that is a point I am making in the Department and in particular with the women’s health strategy. Perhaps all scientific committees that make decisions about women’s health should have a gender balance.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Luton North that I am absolutely on to that and have been all the way through. I might just be beginning to get a bit of insight into why the JCVI has not prioritised pregnant women for vaccination. It is shameful that they were not; they should have been. She highlighted the data herself at the L&D hospital, which is one of my local hospitals, and I hope that the hospital will now begin—despite the constant requests and pressure from Government—to review its policies on pregnant women and vaccination.

I thank the Health and Social Care Committee and its independent expert panel for its inquiry into the safety of maternity services and evaluation of maternity commitments. The Department is considering the recommendations made in the report and will publish a full response in September.

In conclusion, I am absolutely proud of the progress that we are making on stillbirths, neonatal deaths and maternal deaths, but we have to do more. That will involve Public Health England, and that will involve looking at all the reasons why and all the targets that we have to beat so that we can reach those ambitions and reduce those figures.