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National partnership hopes to improve maternal outcomes

A new NHS partnership has been launched to address disparities in maternal, perinatal and neonatal health outcomes for women and babies from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The NHS Race and Health Observatory (RHO) today announced the start of a new ‘learning and action network’, in partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and supported by the Health Foundation.

“Let’s make this not just a learning network, but one that sees actions and actionable change”

Ruth May

The 15-month programme will be undertaken across nine selected NHS trusts and integrated care systems (ICSs) in England.

Through the network, senior leaders and those working across maternity and neonatal services will aim to close the gap in mortality and morbidity outcomes among women and babies from minority ethnic backgrounds.

It comes as data continues to show that there are higher rates of maternal and baby deaths among Black and Asian people compared to their White counterparts.

The latest MMBRACE-UK report into maternal deaths in the UK, published this month, showed that the mortality rate for women who died during or soon after pregnancy had increased to levels not seen since 2003-05.

The report found that Black British mothers remained three times more likely to die compared to White mothers.

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Meanwhile the maternal death rate for mothers from Asian ethnic backgrounds remained two times higher than that of White mothers.

The RHO said that, to date, there had been no national maternal or neonatal improvement programme that had specifically focused on tackling ethnic inequalities in care.

However, the new learning and action network aims to kickstart this work, combining quality improvement with explicit anti-racism principles to drive clinical transformation.

Organisations will be expected to come up with a tailored action plan which identifies interventions and approaches that could reduce maternal health inequalities and will be given until June 2025 to roll them out and report back on any success.

Priority areas identified by the participating organisations include haemorrhage, preterm birth, post-partum depression and gestational diabetes.

As part of the programme, participants will host in-person meetings to discuss strategies, have action periods where they will test new approaches and gather data, host monthly calls to discuss progress and share data to reflect on what is and is not working.

Long term, the programme aims to build a list of best practice for maternity and neonatal services, which could potentially be replicated across all NHS trusts in England.

The network will be supported by an advisory group made up of experts in midwifery, maternal and neonatal medicine and nursing.

Ruth May standing at lectern

Ruth May speaking at the launch event

At the network launch event, held in London today, the chief nursing officer for England, Dame Ruth May, said the partnership “would be something very powerful”.

Addressing project participants in the room, she said: “I genuinely appreciate your efforts and I know your determination to make a difference.”

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Dame Ruth highlighted the need for anti-racism work “to do something more positive rather than just being passive”.

She added: “Thank you to all of you that I know you’re going to step into this place.

“I look forward to seeing improvements, not just in 15 months’ time, but 15 days’ time, 15 weeks’ time…so that the children that we are currently seeing [and] the mothers of our future, have a very different experience.

“Let’s make this not just a learning network, but one that sees actions and actionable change.”

Kate Brintworth

Meanwhile, Kate Brintworth, the chief midwifery officer for England, congratulated the selected organisations and said she admired them for “stepping into uncertainty” as they embark on a journey to improve maternal health outcomes.

She said: “It’s taking an anti-racist approach that is absolutely fundamental.

“If we don’t, we aren’t going to change the statistics, we aren’t going to move this on.

“I applaud you for being willing to step into a space that at times will be uncomfortable [and] will be difficult.”

Ms Brintworth noted that it was “very easy to talk about inequalities but quite hard to do something”.

She added: “Thank you for making the ambition out there to make care not just safe, not just kind, not just personalised, but equitable.”

List of participating organisations

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust / Birmingham and Solihull ICS

Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire ICS

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust / North-West London ICS

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust / Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS

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St Mary’s Hospital (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) / Greater Manchester ICS

North Central London ICS

North-East London ICS

Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust/ Greater Manchester ICS

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust / Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICS

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