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Southwark Council to probe stark inequality in maternity care

24 January 2024

Women from black ethnic groups are four times more likely to die in pregnancy than those from white groups, and women from Asian ethnic backgrounds almost twice as likely.

This startling statistic from a 2023 national report has prompted Southwark Council to establish a maternity commission to explore and highlight the extent of these issues in south London.

Southwark Maternity Commission launch

The Commission will capture local experiences of women and add qualitative research to supplement national statistics.

Southwark is one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, with 40 per cent of its population born outside the UK.

The Commission will facilitate a series of panel meetings, face-to-face listening exercises and online options to share experiences of maternity care. It aims to raise awareness about having a safe pregnancy and birth and improve services to reduce inequalities in maternal outcomes.

Councillor Evelyn Akoto, who founded the Commission, said: “The statistics on Black women’s risks when giving birth in this country, in this period of time, are shocking. We want to know why. We want to hear about the experiences of people who feel let down when they were most vulnerable and what we can do to make services better in Southwark and beyond. By addressing the inequalities gap this will ultimately improve services for all.”

The panel, chaired by Councillor Akoto, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, and co-chaired by Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, met publicly for the first time on 23 January 2024 at Southwark Council’s office at 160 Tooley Street.

The meeting introduced the Southwark Maternity Commission and heard from three key maternity providers. The following three meetings will hear from frontline professionals delivering maternity care, and from patients and their families who have used maternity services in the past five years. The final two meetings will build on emerging recommendations and result in organisational commitments from local providers.

Women and people who give birth are able to choose where they wish to get maternity care and where they wish to give birth. The majority of Southwark residents opt for one of two providers: Guy’s and St Thomas’ or King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts. The Commission will hear views on access, experience and outcomes of these perinatal services in Southwark.

Bringing together experts in nursing, obstetrics and midwifery, health professionals and representatives from organisations such as The Motherhood Group, the Commission will aim to hear from all sides. From those who commission maternity services, those working on the frontline and those who experience their care. Its purpose is not to level blame for poor care but to see where and why there are gaps in care in relation to ethnicity, social disadvantage and other complex factors, and what can be done to create equity of care.

The resulting evidence from the submission will lead to:

  1. A report and action plan which will be used to support systemic change needed to reduce drivers of inequality
  2. Awareness resources which will aim to raise community awareness about having a safe pregnancy and childbirth, including advice as to how to self-advocate during pregnancy
  3. A message of solidarity to the population to reassure Southwark residents that their voices are being heard

Page last updated: 25 January 2024

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