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Coronavirus Equality diversity and inclusion Maternity

NHS boosts support for pregnant Black and Ethnic Minority women

The NHS is rolling out additional support for pregnant Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) women, as new research shows heightened risks facing women from minority groups.

27 June 2020

Recent analysis shows Black pregnant women are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19, while Asian women are four times as likely.

Urgent action is being taken by the NHS in England to protect expectant mums, including increasing uptake of important Vitamin D and undertaking outreach in neighbourhoods and communities in their area.

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds have long been known to face additional maternity risks, with maternal mortality rates significantly higher than for white women.

But now research from Oxford University shows that 55% of the pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are from a BAME background, even though they only make up a quarter of the births in England and Wales.

Today, England’s most senior midwife, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has written to all maternity units in the country calling on them to take four specific actions which will minimise the additional risk of Covid-19 for BAME women and their babies.

The common sense steps include:

  • Increasing support of at-risk pregnant women – e.g. making sure clinicians have a lower threshold to review, admit and consider multidisciplinary escalation in women from a BAME background.
  • Reaching out and reassuring pregnant BAME women with tailored communications.
  • Ensuring hospitals discuss vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy with all 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.
  • Ensuring all providers record on maternity information systems the ethnicity of every woman, as well as other risk factors, such as living in a deprived area (postcode), co-morbidities, BMI and aged 35 years or over, to identify those most at risk of poor outcomes.

Chief Midwifery Officer for England, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, 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 pandemic outbreak has caused some people to worry about seeking help from the NHS, and there has been a decrease in attendances for some NHS services.

Warning signs like unusual fetal movement have also been dismissed by some women in fear that going to hospital is of greater risk to them, with local services today asked to deliver outreach programmes for at-risk communities.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent continued:

“Understandably, the pandemic has caused pregnant women increased anxiety over the last couple of months, but I want to make sure that every pregnant woman in England knows that the NHS is here for them – if you have any doubt whatsoever that something isn’t right with you or your baby, contact your midwife immediately.”

This is the latest in a series of measures to support pregnant women from BAME communities.

The NHS Long Term plan commits to ensuring 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.

Alongside doing more for at-risk patients, the NHS is increasing support for staff from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds too, with all hospitals this week instructed to complete risk assessments for all staff who are at risk of covid-19 within the next month.