Promising new developments from our National Centre for Maternity Improvement

New technology developed by the team at our National Centre for Maternity Improvement is helping to address racial inequalities in maternity care
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Latest research published today in BJOG, the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, has shown new screening technology being developed by our National Centre for Maternity Improvement could help reduce the disproportionately high rates of pregnancy loss among women from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds by 60%.

Why this matters

Pregnancy risk is much higher for women from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK, with previous research showing they experience 2-3x higher rates of stillbirth and pregnancy loss compared to White women. We know this is unacceptable.

To tackle this, the team at our National Centre for Maternity Improvement has been developing a new digital tool to help maternity staff more accurately screen for potential risks of pregnancy complications. 

It works by comparing different risk factors and data against each other on an individual basis rather than using the current method which involves a standard checklist – something that hasn’t changed since the 1970s. These results help to create more personalised maternity care plans dependent on what risks are identified, with the aim of improving health outcomes for both mum and baby. 

Why this new technology is important

The study, shared today, followed over 20,000 pregnant women from July 2016 – December 2020 using either the standard NICE screening or this brand new technology developed by the Tommy’s funded team.

Researchers found significant inequalities in pregnancy outcomes for mums from ethnic minority backgrounds when the standard screening was used – 7.95 deaths per 1,000 births compared to 2.63 per 1,000 births among White mums. However, this racial disparity was equalised when the new screening tool was used alongside targeted care, reducing the number of stillbirth and pregnancy losses by 60%. For mums with hypertensive issues (such as high blood pressure), or babies born small for their gestational age, the number of losses fell by 73%.  For those with placenta problems, 3 in 4 losses were avoided thanks to timely specialist care.  

Based on these promising results, this new digital screening tool is now currently being piloted at 3 sites across the UK. With this additional data, the team will be able to further evaluate the tool and work out what else needs to be done if it is rolled out on a national scale.

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“It’s incredibly exciting to see that changing from the standard pregnancy risk factor checklists to our new approach can directly address and almost eliminate a large source of the healthcare inequality facing Black, Asian and minority ethnic pregnant women. 

“The current maternal risk-factor screening programme is limited and can contribute to ongoing racial inequalities – but our algorithm can account for these deficiencies, enabling us to truly personalise care rather than treating large groups in the same way, and ultimately improve pregnancy outcomes.”

— Professor Basky Thilaganathan, Clinical Director of Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement
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“We sadly know all too well that mothers from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK face higher pregnancy risks – but our new study makes it painfully clear these inequalities are not only unacceptable but avoidable. This issue demands urgent attention from both clinicians and policymakers. Meanwhile, our researchers are working to share their findings across the wider NHS, as part of our National Centre for Maternity Improvement’s ongoing efforts to make pregnancy safer for all.”

— Jane Brewin, CEO of Tommy’s charity which funded the research

About our National Centre for Maternity Improvement

Launched in partnership with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in 2019, Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement is an alliance between parents, midwives, doctors, the NHS and academic experts. It was set up to drive improvement in the maternity service, with the aim of preventing 600 stillbirths and 12,000 preterm births nationally. 

It focuses on developing personalised, patient-centred care models that can be scaled up nationally to help reduce the current geographical, social and racial inequalities of care experienced by families across the UK. 

The new digital screening tool and research is the latest breakthrough from the Centre which aims to improve stillbirth and preterm birth rates in line with the governments 2025 targets.

Find out more here.