In a case of racial disparity, the maternal mortality rate among Black women and those from other deprived backgrounds in Britain has increased, suggesting bias within the UK healthcare system.

On January 11, a report by Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRRACE-UK) showed Black women and those from deprived areas are far more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth.

As the overall maternal mortality rate in Britain has reached its highest level in almost two decades, the UK parliament committee reported last year that the country has “glaring and persistent disparities in outcomes for women depending on their ethnicity.”

 “It is shocking that Black women are almost four times more likely to die from childbirth than White women,” the committee said. 


According to the Office for National Statistics, the death rate of Black babies before or during delivery sits at 6.9 stillbirths for every 1,000 births registered in 2021, compared with 3.6 for every 1,000 White babies.

The report comes after a series of scandals at maternity units within the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).

A shocking 2022 report found failures at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust in western England had contributed to the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers over 20 years.

Marian Knight, director of the National Prenatal Epidemiology Unit and MBRRACE-UK maternal reporting lead, said Britain’s maternity systems were “under pressure” and the “increase in maternal mortality raises further concern.”

“Ensuring pre-pregnancy health … as well as critical actions to work towards more inclusive and personalized care need to be prioritized as a matter of urgency now more than ever,” she added.

MBRRACE-UK found there were 13.41 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies reported from 2020 to 2022.

Excluding deaths from COVID-19—the second most common cause—the maternal death rate for the period was 11.54 per 100,000.

This rate is up from 8.79 per 100,000 in 2017-2019 and the highest since 2003-2005.

The main cause of death was thrombosis and thromboembolism, or blood clots in the veins. Heart disease and deaths related to poor mental health were also common.

Commenting on the bi-annual MBRRACE-UK audit of October last year which showed Black British women are almost four times more likely to die during or after pregnancy than White women, CEO of maternity charity the National Childbirth Trust Angela McConville called the lack of progress on mortality “incredibly disheartening.” 

“Women living in the most deprived areas remain more likely to die and we know the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating inequalities and widening the gap for those in priority need of care,” McConville said.

In a survey conducted by BMJ (British Medical Journal) in 2022, almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Black people who responded to a survey said that they had experienced prejudice from doctors and other staff in healthcare settings. This rose to three-quarters (75 percent) among Black people aged 18 to 34.

The study noted that this finding had also been reported by the NHS Race Health Observatory, which found evidence of negative interactions, stereotyping, disrespect, discrimination, and cultural insensitivity across maternity services.

 This made many women from ethnic minority groups feel “unwelcome, and poorly cared for.” It also found that Black patients in the UK were subject to more intrusive treatments, such as injectable antipsychotics, and were less likely to be offered talking therapy for severe mental illness.

Black African individuals were at least six percentage points more likely than those from other ethnic groups to believe that they were being discriminated against by NHS professionals because of their ethnicity.

Another study conducted last year by researchers from King’s College found that when compared to other patient groups, Black women have twice and in some cases three times the rate of long-term conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, hypertension, osteoarthritis, diabetes and morbid obesity. (