NHS promises more care for pregnant women from BAME background

The NHS is taking urgent action to protect expectant mums from a black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) background during the coronavirus crisis, as new research shows these women face an increased risk.

A recent major study showed that pregnant women are not at greater risk of severe coronavirus. However, although most did not become seriously ill, this research also showed that 55% of the pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are from a BAME background, even though they only make up 25% of the births in England and Wales.

The research indicates that Asian women are 4 times more likely than white women to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19 during pregnancy, while black women are 8 times more likely.

This needed “urgent investigation” said the British Medical Journal.

England’s most senior midwife, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has now written to all maternity units in the country, asking them to:

  • ensure staff have a lower threshold to assess and admit pregnant women from a BAME background
  • provide tailored support and advice to pregnant BAME women
  • make sure they discuss the importance of taking vitamin D supplements and eating a healthy, balanced diet with all pregnant women – women low in vitamin D may be more vulnerable to coronavirus so women with darker skin or those who always cover their skin when outside may be at particular risk of vitamin D insufficiency and should consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D all year.
  • ensure all staff record the ethnicity of every women on their information systems, as well as other factors such as living in a deprived area, a high BMI and being aged 35 or older, to help identity women at risk of complications.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent is Chief Midwifery Officer for England and a member of Tommy’s pregnancy information advisory group. She said:

“We know that pregnant women from a BAME background are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 compared to white women, which is why we’re helping midwives take sensible extra steps to protect mum and baby.

While Public Health England is continuing to assess and advise on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on ethnic groups, I want to make sure that the NHS is doing everything we can to reach out, reassure and support those pregnant women and new mums most at risk.”

The NHS also has a Long Term Plan to ensure that by 2024, three-quarters of pregnant BAME women will receive care from the same midwife before, during and after they give birth. This is proven to help reduce pre-term births, hospital admissions, the need for intervention during labour and to improve women’s over experience of care.

Jane Brewin, CEO at Tommy’s says:

“We welcome this announcement from the NHS and the efforts made to protect pregnant women from a black, Asian and ethnic minority during the pandemic. Our advice is to keep following the current guidelines and take the necessary precautions to avoid infection.

“If you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19 you should use the NHS 111 online service for information, or NHS 24 if in Scotland. Tell them that you are from a black, Asian and ethnic minority background, if this applies, and that you are at higher risk of complications. If you feel your symptoms are worsening or if you are not getting better you should contact your maternity care team, your GP, or use the NHS 111 online service / NHS 24 for further information and advice. In an emergency, call 999.

“We must also stress that maternity care is still essential and services are still running during the pandemic. We urge everyone who has any concerns about their pregnancy to call their GP, midwife, nearest early pregnancy unit or maternity unit straight away.”