Year-long inquiry exposes systemic racism as a major problem in UK maternity care 1 month ago

Year-long inquiry exposes systemic racism as a major problem in UK maternity care

Many women described feeling ignored or patronised.

A UK report has revealed that many Asian, Black and mixed-race women are experiencing systemic racism in maternity care.

Advertisement

In the year-long-inquiry, carried out by charity Birthrights, participants reported feeling unsafe, being denied pain relief, facing racial stereotyping and dealing with microaggressions.

Black women in the UK are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Meanwhile, Asian and mixed-race women are twice as likely.

"There is nothing 'wrong' with black or brown bodies that can explain away the disparities in maternal mortality rates, outcomes and experiences," Shaheen Rahman, inquiry chair, said.

"What is required now is a determined focus on individualised, rights-respecting care."

Advertisement

The inquiry panel heard from over 300 people with lived experience of racial injustice in maternity care.

One woman described having her sepsis dismissed during her first birth.

"I was shivering, my whole body was aching, my heart was beating really fast and I felt terrible. But everyone kept saying everything was normal," she said.

"It was almost 24 hours later before a doctor took my bloods for the first time and realised I was seriously ill."

She had to have an emergency C-section and her baby was then taken into intensive care after also contracting sepsis.

"I experienced microaggressions and was stereotyped because of the colour of my skin," she continued.

"The staff would say 'hello princess', and while I was having contractions in a corridor a midwife walked past and said, 'Oh, you're definitely going to need an epidural'. I had never even met her before.

"I was repeatedly ignored, they just thought I was a weak little Indian girl, who was unable to take pain."

Advertisement

Another woman said that staff failed to recognise jaundice in her black baby and all of her concerns were ignored.

“At the hospital the doctor admitted the reading was very high but insisted from the look of him there is nothing to suggest he was severely jaundiced, just a 'slight' yellowing of his eyes,” she said.

“They did another reading and sent his bloods off, it was even higher than the last. My baby was immediately hospitalised for several weeks.

“The white staff did not recognise jaundice in a black baby.”

Advertisement

The Department of Health and Social Care established a taskforce to address racial inequalities in maternity care in February. A spokesperson said it would "level up maternity care for all women".