It has been reported today that the government has set up a new task force to look into why there are inequalities in maternity care and how the government can improve outcomes for women in ethnic minority communities.

According to published data, black women are 40% more likely to experience a miscarriage than white women. It also reported that women who live in deprived areas of the country can have higher rates of miscarriage. The medical negligence lawyers at Osbornes Law represent many families where the parents, and in particular the mother, do not speak English as their first language. These women, many of whom are young and vulnerable are often overlooked during their antenatal appointments or do not understand what is being explained to them. This creates an enormous issue in the weeks leading up to and at the time of labour and delivery of their baby.

A pattern of poor care

We have seen a pattern whereby many of our non-English speaking clients have suffered alleged negligent medical care. This has led to an injury at the time of delivery of their baby, stillbirth or the delivery of a brain-injured baby. Our clients have explained to us that they were left for long periods of time at the time of being admitted to the maternity unit. They were not examined regularly and they did not understand what was happening. This led to them being fearful; anxious and isolated in the hours leading up to the delivery of their baby.

Apparently, the Government's new task force will seek to identify the barriers faced and how they can continue to improve maternity care to reduce the number of stillbirths and maternal deaths.

Tragic consequences of a birth injury

Avoidable maternal deaths are absolutely devasting for the families of the deceased. What could and should have been a happy event, transcends into a tragedy of the utmost significance. A case that has been widely reported in the press, is a case in which Stephanie Prior, head of medical negligence, is acting for a man, Mr Ionel Pintilie, who had been married to his childhood sweetheart, Gabriela. She fell pregnant and in February 2019 and tragically died post caesarean section at Basildon Hospital. Her death was completely avoidable.

Mr Pintilie is Romanian and speaks very little English. His late wife Gabriela spoke more than him. On the evening that she received negligent medical care, he was left outside the operating theatre waiting and waiting for news on his wife. He could see from the corridor the medical and nursing staff in chaos and he was oblivious as to the events unfolding on the other side of the doors. When he was approached by medical staff, google translate was used to try and explain the enormity of the dire situation with which his wife was faced. He did not understand what was happening. He left the hospital hours later with his newborn baby daughter and not his wife.

In the week leading up to his daughter's 1st birthday, he was traumatised as he wanted to celebrate her birthday but the pain of the anniversary of the loss of his wife was also too much to bear.

Maternal deaths are not just a statistic they are lifelong devastation for the families that are left picking up the pieces. So, while the Government has taken action to improve maternity services to half the number of stillbirths; neonatal deaths; maternal death and brain injuries by 2025, these are still happening. Statistics reveal that stillbirth rates have reduced by 25% since 2010.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Women's Health is quoted as saying: "For too long disparities have persisted which mean women living in deprived areas or from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to get the care they need, and worse, lose their child. We must do better to understand and address the causes of this.

The maternity disparities task force will help level-up maternity care across the country, bringing together a wide range of experts to deliver real and ambitious change so we can improve care for all women, and I will be monitoring progress closely. As a nurse, I know how incredibly challenging the last two years have been and would like to thank all our dedicated maternity staff for their hard work and commitment throughout the pandemic."

The first task force meeting is due to take place on 8 March 2022 and every two months thereafter meetings will be held to track progress; bring the experts together amongst other things, and membership will be published this month.

Incidentally, BBC's Panorama will be televising their interview with Bernie Bentick, the former consultant gynaecologist who spent almost 30 years at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust prior to his retirement in 2020. This is on the back of the largest inquiry to be undertaken within the NHS in maternity care and which is due to be published next month. The inquiry examined the care that 1,862 families received at the NHS Trust.

In an evidence session seen by Panorama, the clinical director of the Royal Shrewsbury at the time told MPs: "The culture of our organisation is that we have low intervention rates and once that is known we attract both midwives and obstetricians who like to practise in that way."

In the same session, the manager of women's services at the time said: "When I interview midwives who have not trained in Shropshire. some of them have never seen a baby born in breech.delivered vaginally. They almost need retraining to be able to work in Shropshire."

It will be interesting to see what percentage of families involved in this inquiry were from an ethnic minority, vulnerable or non-English speaking backgrounds.

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