Tommy’s welcomes Black maternity experience reports

Action group Five X More have today published the results of their landmark survey exploring Black women and pregnant people’s maternity experience. We believe it is a crucial step in solving shocking disparities in maternal healthcare.

We know that there are clear racial disparities in maternal and baby deaths in the UK.

Black women are 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth. Stillbirth rates for babies of Black ethnicity are over twice those for babies of White ethnicity, and Tommy’s Lancet series showed Black women are at 40% increased risk of experiencing a miscarriage.

Five X More is a grassroots organisation committed to changing Black women and pregnant people’s maternal health outcomes in the UK. Their work focuses on empowering Black parents to make informed choices and advocate for themselves throughout their pregnancies and after childbirth.

Their Black Maternity Experiences report captures over 1,300 experiences, showing how maternity care is delivered from the perspective of Black women and pregnant people in the UK. 

The stories shared in the report highlight a consistent theme of Black women and pregnant people's concerns not being listened to or acted upon. 

36% of respondents reported feeling dissatisfied with how their concerns during labour were addressed by professionals. 

61% of women and people experiencing pregnancy loss reported not receiving any additional support in helping them deal with this.  

The report highlights how Black women and pregnant people’s experience of maternity care is shaped by the attitudes, knowledge and assumptions of healthcare professionals. While both positive and negative experiences were reported, negative experiences far outweighed those in which women were happy with the care that they had received. 

Maternity Consortium united to reduce inequalities 

Five X More are members of the Maternity Consortium, which is part of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Health and Wellbeing Alliance. Led by Tommy’s and Sands, the consortium unites organisations behind a common agenda to reduce health inequalities.

The Five X More report echoes other work from the Maternity Consortium which has identified barriers faced in accessing maternity services. The Maternity Consortium is currently looking into how to promote equitable access to perinatal mental health services, and how to promote equity in neonatal care.   

Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit view

The Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit was formed in 2021 with the aim of halving the number of UK baby deaths by ensuring decision makers have access to up-to-date information, and maternity policy is informed by robust evidence.

We’re part of a network which has a common agenda – to reduce health inequalities for families throughout the whole pregnancy journey from pre-conception and through the first year of a baby’s life. We believe that no mother or baby should be at higher risk of death because of postcode, ethnicity, or income.

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"Everyone should experience safe and personalised care throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. As this report makes clear, this is too often not the reality faced by many Black women. To make progress on tackling inequalities, the experiences highlighted in this report must now lead to improvements in care - so that everyone can benefit from the best possible outcomes. 

“We need the publication of national data to monitor progress against Government commitments to reduce these inequalities, and the forthcoming update to the NHS Long Term Plan must set out clear ambitions for tackling inequality in perinatal outcomes due to ethnicity.”

— Robert Wilson, Head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit

Birthrights report calls for individual and structural change

Five X More’s report has been published in the same week as another major inquiry by charity Birthrights, which shows that Black and Asian women are being harmed by racial discrimination in maternity care.

Birthrights’ year-long investigation, Systemic Racism, not Broken Bodies, supported by law firm Leigh Day, found common themes such as Black and Asian women feeling unsafe, both physically and psychologically, during their maternity care. Overt racial stereotyping and microaggressions were widely reported. 

Their report explores testimony from women, birthing people, healthcare professionals and lawyers outlining how systemic racism within maternity care – from individual interactions and workforce culture through to curriculums and policies – can be devastating during pregnancy and childbirth.

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“Tommy’s is committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to give birth – for all pregnant women and people, wherever they are from, wherever they live, and whatever their ethnicity. There are clear racial disparities in maternal deaths in the UK, the causes of which are wide-ranging and complex. Both of these timely, detailed, vital reports from Five X More and Birthrights provide evidence to show the shocking scale and severity of the problem, on individual and deep structural levels. Their findings must be taken seriously by Government and lead to positive change.”  

— Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive