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22 July 2022

Systemic racism in maternity care: an urgent human rights issue

2 mins

Since our previous article on the Maternity Disparities Taskforce, further reporting on the issue of disparities in maternity care for those from ethnic minorities has been presented by Birthrights, a UK charity that champions respectful care during pregnancy and childbirth by protecting human rights.

Their new report titled ‘Systemic racism, not broken bodies’ is the result of a year-long inquiry into racial injustice and human rights in UK maternity care. 

The inquiry set out to understand how racism manifests within maternity care and how to drive action to end it. It uncovered the following common themes that emerged from across the evidence:

  • Lack of physical and psychological safety 
  • Being ignored and disbelieved 
  • Racism by caregivers
  • Dehumanisation
  • Lack of choice, consent and coercion
  • Structural barriers
  • Workforce representation and culture

The report calls on the government and NHS initiatives to recognise the role that racism plays in the worst outcomes and experiences for black, brown, and mixed ethnicity women. 

The report sets out five calls to action to drive forward concrete change:

  • Commit to being an anti-racist organisation  
  • Decolonise maternity curriculums and guidance Equality Act 
  • Make black and brown women decision-makers in their care and the wider maternity system
  • Create safe, inclusive workforce cultures
  • Dismantle structural barriers to racial equality through national policy change 

A legal basis in relation to the above points is cited under the Equality Act – direct and indirect discrimination, and several articles under the Human Rights Act such as Article 14 – protection from discrimination, Article Two – protection to a right to life, and Article Three – freedom from degrading treatment.

The report sets out distressing case studies such as jaundice not being recognised in a black baby leading to brain damage, and an infant brain injury due to hypoglycaemia, caused by a lack of feeding support that the mother was unable to receive as no interpretation services where available. 

Whilst reporting on the issue is very welcome, it is time that change is introduced to eradicate the systemic racism that exists in maternity services in the UK. 

For access to the full Birthrights report, please click here.

For more information about our Medical Negligence and Personal Injury services, visit our web page here.  

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