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End racial disparities in women’s healthcare

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racial disparities, women's healthcare, poor outcomes, policy statement, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, RCOG, recommendations, government action, medical training“We need to pinpoint the exact causes of these disparities in order to tackle them.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has called for the government to tackle the issues related to racial disparities in women’s healthcare in the UK.

And it said swift action is needed, as current trends show an increased rate of adverse health experiences for black, Asian and minority ethnic women.

Statistics show that black women are more than five times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth or in the six-month postpartum period than white women.

The risk level compared to white women is increased threefold for women of mixed ethnicity and more than doubled for Asian women.

These worrying patterns are not just visible in maternity care either, but also in infant outcomes, breast and cervical cancer diagnosis and mental health support.

Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women are at an increased risk of having a pre-term birth, stillbirth, neonatal death or a baby born with low birth weight. In fact, black women are up to twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth at all gestational ages than white women.

Data also shows that black women with breast cancer have a higher mortality rate and incidences of poor outcomes are also higher for those suffering with cervical cancer.

A policy statement released by the RCOG to mark International Women’s Day 2020 recommends:

1 – Government action to examine and report on racial inequality in maternity care and provide recommendations to be taken forward without delay.

The government must act decisively to tackle health inequalities in maternity care amongst Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women in the UK.

The government should make a series of key, achievable recommendations to improve outcomes.

This should be done in partnership with a wide range of individuals with expertise in this area, including black, Asian and minority ethnic women and their families.

2 – End the gender and ethnicity data gaps in medical research. It is important that clinical research properly reflects society, and that we begin to reverse the gender and ethnicity gap that currently persists.

As called for in the RCOG’s report Better for Women, there must be renewed effort to tackle the ethnicity and gender data gap by funding more studies which focus on women’s health and responses to treatment.

Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women must be properly represented in these studies.

This will help to eliminate the bias sometimes evident in diagnosis, treatment and medical research.

3 – Establish a robust training programme in medical schools to eradicate implicit racial bias and stereotypes.

Bias and stereotypes are ingrained in the psyche from a young age. To combat this, a robust training programme should be included in medical school curricula, to recognise the presence and impact of implicitly held biases on patient outcomes and embed positive behaviours.

Training should include making medical students aware of explicit and implicit racial bias, how to facilitate and stimulate greater information and improved social exchange by, for example, creating a question prompt list for both clinical use and patient use.

The General Medical Council (GMC) and Medical Schools Council (MSC) must investigate if medical schools have such training and improve it where necessary.

Where training does not already exist, the MSC and GMC must work with medical schools to develop an appropriate programme without delay.

The RCOG will consider the role it can play in tackling racism and unconscious bias through its own training and education.

This is not something that can be achieved by one organisation and the RCOG is looking forward to working with groups in healthcare and with the government to reduce this gulf and improve outcomes for women and girls.

Dr Ranee Thakar, Vice President of the RCOG, said: “It is essential that we investigate the root causes of these very concerning trends to ensure that all women and girls have the ability to access the same high standard of healthcare.

“There are a number of reasons why these disparities could exist and the most effective way of examining these is to speak to the women who are affected by them on a daily basis.

“Women should always be at the centre of all decisions and actions pertaining to their own healthcare, and any policies put in place to protect and nurture their health.”

And Dr Edward Morris, President of the RCOG, said: “We are very concerned by the worrying statistics reflecting the racial inequalities in women’s healthcare in the UK and it is a priority of mine to address this serious issue.

“There are no good reasons for the rates of adverse outcomes for women and girls of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and we need to pinpoint the exact causes of these disparities in order to tackle them.

“The RCOG appreciates that it cannot eradicate these inequalities alone and is making a step towards a united front by calling on the government to join us in taking action now.”

To read the full policy statement, click here.

You can help by forwarding the policy statement to your MP and asking for their support.

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