Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE will co-chair a new maternity disparities taskforce to explore inequalities in maternity care experienced by Black and other ethnic minority women.
In recent years, campaigners and advocates have been calling for changes to the UK health system, after unacceptable disparities in maternity healthcare have come to light. These shocking stats include how Black women are 40% more likely to experience a miscarriage than white women, and those who live in deprived areas can have higher rates of still births.
The new taskforce will have England’s first Chief Midwifery Officer Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE as its co-chair. Dunkley-Bent was appointed to her role in 2019 as part of plans “to improve care for new and expectant mothers and their children and promote safer births in England”.
A top priority for the taskforce is why, despite progress to reduce the instances of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries, disparities continue to persist within ethnic minority groups and deprived areas.
Birmingham is one of the most deprived areas of the country and has the highest rates of neonatal mortality and stillbirths at 11.4 per 1,000. Birmingham also has a high number of low birth weight of all babies (9.7% in 2018) and a high prematurity rate.
The taskforce will seek to increase understanding of the drivers behind the disparities, examine the social factors linked to poorer health outcomes and tackle these issues in order to improve the health and wellbeing of women and their babies.
“[The taskforce] membership will include experts from across the health service, mothers, government and the voluntary sector.”
The first meeting is scheduled to take place in early March, with further meetings every two months to maintain and track progress, and membership will include experts from across the health service, mothers, government and the voluntary sector.
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said: “The NHS’ ambition is to be the safest place in the world to be pregnant, give birth and transition into parenthood. All women who use our maternity services should receive the best care possible, which is why the NHS is committed to reducing health inequalities and our equity and equality guidance sets out how the NHS will do this.”
“We welcome the extra impetus and support that the new taskforce will provide in tackling these important issues and look forward to participating in it.”
Giving her views on possible factors for the disparities, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Director for Professional Midwifery, Mary Ross- Davie, said: “The RCM has long called for more consultant and specialist midwife posts in trusts and health boards to provide better support to women with pre-existing conditions such as increased BMI, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health conditions. In many parts of the UK, these midwife roles either do not exist or are very limited, yet they could make a huge difference to Black and Asian women in particular.”
In a move that should support the maternity workforce and families, the NHS has committed to a £95 million recruitment drive to hire 1,200 more midwives and 100 obstetricians.