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Maternal mortality is a shameful reflection of an unequal society

Lara Spurr (Workers GB Writers Group)

It will probably come as no surprise to many of our members and the public that the lives of expectant and new mothers in the UK are seriously deteriorating with the cost of living crisis and the crisis in mental health which inevitably accompanies it. The WHO has warned that Britain is shamefully falling behind her peers in Europe, with almost 10 mothers dying within six weeks of giving birth for every 100,000 babies born. Suicide is a leading cause of these deaths.

Maternal Health specialists at the WHO have pinpointed an association between deprivation and an increased likelihood of a woman dying in the weeks running up to, and after giving birth. This visible increase appears to be affecting Black and Asian communities the most, with the over 40s and under 20s age groups showing the greatest impact. The available evidence clearly points to poverty being a major association with these increased mortality rates, with the most economically deprived areas showing starkly higher cases. The statistics of maternal mortality are a shameful reflection of the unequal and racist society in which we live.

The NHS has issues in the area of not only frontline maternal care more generally, but also crucially ante- and perinatal mental health services.The ability of the services that do exist to reach women in the most deprived working class communities, particularly those of ethnic minorities, appears to be an even bigger failure. The UK government has declared that it is investing more in maternity and obstetrics staff, as well as mental health services for expectant and new mothers, but we shall see if these promised improvements end up actually reaching the people who need it the most.

The Care Quality Commission (the UK’s healthcare watchdog) has noted that women’s experiences around the time of the birth of their babies has definitely deteriorated over the past five years. They have received many complaints from new mothers that their concerns around the time of giving birth had not been listened to, with many also stating that they had just not received the help they needed at this crucial time. An even starker figure gleaned from an international analysis of maternal care shows that UK mothers are three times more likely to die around the time of childbirth than their Norwegian peers, which surely should be food for thought for anyone involved in any way in maternal health care services in this country.

The only way we can solve this problem and raise the status of women as well as ethnic and national minorities is to fulfil the demands of our ten-point program: free and comprehensive healthcare with no waiting lists, high quality laundries, crèches and dining facilities that enable women to take part in work and public life without prejudice or physical barriers. To achieve this, low and middle income communities need to be organised and trained to fight back against the cost of living crisis and cuts to our public services

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