Good maternity care: We need to talk about race

11 February 2021

An urgent inquiry into systemic racism in the NHS and how it manifests itself in maternity care was launched recently. The Inquiry has been convened by Birthrights: an organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth.

The Inquiry comes hot on the heels of data published in January 2021 by MBRRACE (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK), which showed that black women are four times more likely than their white counterparts to die in pregnancy or childbirth in the UK, while women of Asian heritage face twice the risk and women of mixed ethnicity three times.

Other studies echo this worrying trend. Research published in 2013 found that women from minority ethnic groups had a poorer experience of maternity services than white women. They were more likely to deliver by emergency c section, less likely to have pain relief during labour and received fewer home visits from midwives. The rates of baby loss are also higher for these groups.

Barrister Shaheen Rahman QC, Chair of the Inquiry said “We want to understand the stories behind the statistics, to examine how people can be discriminated against due to their race and to identify ways that this inequity can be redressed.”

In the Clinical Negligence department at Kingsley Napley, we already have an understanding of some of these stories. They include maternal injuries, such as avoidable tears, incontinence and psychological trauma. They also include injuries to babies, such as cerebral palsy and erbs palsy.

Unfortunately, the most recent MBRRACE report and the statistics highlighted above come as no surprise to campaigners. Kingsley Napley have previously written on this topic ("COVID-19 only highlighted the racial inequality within the healthcare setting which has put BAME patients disproportionately at risk for years" by  colleague  Simran Tatla), which has (rightly) come under greater scrutiny following the worrying correlation between race and COVID-19 death rates. Sadly, the urgent need for this Inquiry and resulting investigation couldn’t be clearer.

Perhaps most shockingly, reports produced just six years ago found that in 2014 black women were five times more likely than their white counterparts to die in pregnancy or childbirth. Whilst the recent statistical improvement is clearly positive, it also holds potentially terrifying implications. No doubt the Inquiry will look into the impact that campaigning and recognition of these issues has had. If it is found that campaigning has contributed to the improved figures it will confirm two opposing facts: the importance of the Inquiry’s work and the horrifying truth that there is racial inequality in the UK’s healthcare system.

Participation in the Inquiry?
Birthrights have launched a broad call for evidence and intend to conduct participation work to investigate how racial bias and systemic racism impact on maternity outcomes and experiences. The expert panel will then consider these findings, take oral evidence at hearings in summer 2021, and work to identify solutions and actions. Whilst it appears that the Inquiry is not yet ready to receive contributions to their investigation, you can find out more information about the Inquiry and Birthrights on their website here.

Further information

If you or a family member have been affected by the issues raised in this blog please contact one of our Medical Negligence & Personal Injury lawyers on 020 7814 1200, or email us at


About the author

Christopher James is an Associate and specialises in working with clients that have sustained a range of injuries through medical negligence and personal injury, including brain injuries, injuries arising from birth, cases of incorrect and delayed diagnosis’ and psychiatric injuries.


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