Rochelle Humes investigates the Black Maternity scandal

Dispatches airs tonight on Channel 4.

“The colour of a woman’s skin should have no impact on her or her baby’s health. I am absolutely committed to tackling disparities and making sure all women get the right support and best possible maternity care. I have launched an oversight group to monitor how the health service is tackling maternal inequalities.” – Statement from the Minister for Maternity Nadine Dorries

Presenter Rochelle Humes demands action over the shocking disparity of maternal deaths between white and non-white women. According to the latest figures discussed in tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches black women are just over four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth and up to six weeks postpartum.

The latest published maternal mortality figures also show that mixed ethnicity women are three times as likely to suffer maternal death during pregnancy while Asian women are nearly twice as likely. Although this disparity has steadily been widening over the decade, there is no definitive explanation for why mortality rates vary. NHS acknowledge and regret this disparity but there are no specific targets set to reduce the disproportionate rates.

Rochelle, a mum of two from a mixed race background adds: “From the first moment that you find out you’re pregnant, it’s such a personal journey. Not at any point should you think ‘am I going to make it through this?’, because of my race. So how do we be proactive? What’s the next step? How is this not a problem for when our kids are having kids?”

One case looked at by the film is of Natalie Cook who was 35 years old when she succumbed to amniotic fluid embolism known as AFE, which globally, is one of the leading causes of direct maternal death. One study shows black women and other ethnic minorities to be nearly three times more likely to die from the condition.

The family received counselling organised by the hospital but also claim other aspects of their aftercare were poorly handled and insensitive. Naomi says: “There is a lack of support for brown, black and marginalised communities. The system isn’t built for that support.” The hospital concluded it was happy with the level of support the family received.

Maternal death rates do not give a full picture however, because research shows that for every one woman of any race who dies around 100 will suffer a “severe maternal morbidity” – often referred to as a near miss.

Although data is not collected in a central or uniformed way, one study from 2014 shows that compared with white European women, Black African women are 83% more likely and Black Caribbean women 80% more likely to suffer a near miss.

One woman to have suffered a traumatic near miss, Jade, is interviewed by Dispatches. She recounts how her drowsy symptoms following a c-section were likened to a hangover, and presented as a natural reaction to the morphine. It wasn’t until twelve hours later that she was given an antidote to reverse the effects.

“Learning that Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth was shocking and I felt compelled to share this to a wider audience. While we’re incredibly lucky to have the NHS, and the UK remains a relatively safe place to give birth, it is essential that we better understand why these disparities in maternal deaths exist and ask what we can do reduce risk for all mothers.” – Rochelle Humes


The Black Maternity Scandal, Channel 4, 8pm

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