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pregnant black woman

The MBRRACE-UK collaboration, led from Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), has today published data on women who died during, or up to six weeks after, pregnancy between 2019 and 2021 in the UK. This is the first time that the data have been available ahead of the full Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care report, which is due to be published in October 2023, and responds to a recent call in the Women and Equalities Committee Black Maternal Health report for more rapid publication of data.

The report highlighted the findings from the 2018 – 2020 MBRRACE-UK Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care report that revealed an almost four-fold difference in maternal mortality rates amongst Black women and an almost two-fold difference amongst Asian women when compared with White women. The 2019 – 2021 data show that these disparities still remain and further emphasises the need for a continued focus on action to address inequalities in maternal health.

The key data show that:

  • the risk of maternal death in 2019 – 2021 was almost four times higher among women from Black ethnic minority backgrounds compared with White women;
  • women from Asian backgrounds also continued to be at higher risk than White women;
  • women living in the most deprived areas have a maternal mortality rate more than twice as high as women living in the least deprived areas;
  • complications as a result of COVID-19 was the leading cause of maternal death in the UK between 2019 and 2021 during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy. Cardiac disease was the second most frequent cause of maternal death followed by thrombosis and thromboembolism and mental health-related causes. Data from previous Oxford Population Health research show that pregnant women who developed complications as a result of COVID-19 were more likely to either be unvaccinated or not have received all of the recommended doses of a vaccination against COVID-19;
  • when comparing the number of women who died in the periods 2018 – 2020 and 2019 – 2021, there was a slight increase in the overall maternal death rate. When women who died as a result of COVID-19 were excluded, there was a slight decrease in the number of maternal deaths, but this change was not statistically significant.

Professor Marian Knight MBE, Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health at Oxford Population Health and maternal reporting lead, said ‘Persistent disparities in maternal health remain. It is critical that we are working towards more inclusive care where women are listened to, their voices are heard, and we are acting upon what they are telling us.’

The MBRRACE-UK collaborators based at the University of Leicester have published interactive maps and charts of perinatal deaths following births in 2021 for individual trusts and health boards. This early release of data comes ahead of the full MBRRACE-UK Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report for births in 2021 which will be published in September 2023 and the Confidential Enquiry into Perinatal Deaths examining the role of ethnicity which will be published in December 2023. The interactive maps and charts have been updated to include several new features, including the ability to view trends in mortality rates over time for individual trusts and health boards. Users are also able to view the spread of mortality rates and the total number of births by organisation.

Professor Elizabeth Draper, Professor of Perinatal and Paediatric Epidemiology at the University of Leicester, said ‘We have been working to produce more detailed and timely mortality data in order to support Trusts and Health Boards to monitor their rates. This will enable them to act as quickly as possible to address any potential issues if their mortality rates show an increasing trend compared to other similar healthcare providers.’

Professor Jenny Kurinczuk, Professor of Perinatal Epidemiology and National Programme Lead for MBRRACE-UK at the University of Oxford, said ‘More timely publication of Trust and Health Board perinatal mortality trends will support endeavours to identify early warning signals before significant harm occurs, as recommended by Dr Bill Kirkup following his independent investigation of maternity and neonatal services in East Kent.’ 

The data can be accessed from the MBRRACE-UK website.