Queen Mary project will study COVID-19 and maternal health

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In England, there are significant inequalities in maternity care and outcomes, with Black women five times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes to the way maternity care is delivered. Care provision has had to be modified and maternity units have faced staffing shortages. The effects of these changes on maternity outcomes have not yet been measured, and it is unclear whether these changes have widened or narrowed existing inequalities.

Principal Investigator Dr Stamatina Iliodromiti, Senior Lecturer in Women’s Health and Reproductive Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We are delighted to receive funding to harness the wealth of maternity data we have in the UK, to learn lessons from them and ensure that standards of maternity care are retained during the current and any future crises. Giving birth in the UK should be as safe as it could be for all women irrespective of where they live or where they come from.”

This research project will use data that is routinely collected during the course of maternity care to identify changes to outcomes for women and babies during the pandemic, and whether these were related to particular changes in maternity services offered.

The study will then identify any maternity units where changes in practice during the pandemic narrowed existing gaps in outcomes between women from different ethnic groups, or units where the impact on existing inequalities was as small as possible.

The final research will be used to provide recommendations on how the quality and safety of maternity care can be improved, and how it can ensure that all women, irrespective of their background or place of residence, have access to safe maternity care.

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Right from the start of the pandemic our clinical team have worked tirelessly to ensure women stayed informed about the care they would receive during pregnancy and to provide guidance to healthcare professionals working under difficult conditions.

“We’re delighted to receive funding to explore how this pandemic may have affected the outcomes for women giving birth during the pandemic, and especially looking at how the changes to maternity services could have impacted women from BAME backgrounds. This research grant offers a unique opportunity for us to collate what data is out there and provide recommendations to healthcare services moving forward.”

Shai Gohir, RCOG Women’s Voices Lead and co-applicant on the project, said: “Recent statistics around adverse outcomes for BAME women in multiple areas of healthcare show just how essential it is that action is taken to highlight, address and tackle these disparities that are costing lives. It is clear that there is a significant gap in understanding the factors that result in a higher risk of morbidity and mortality for Black, Asian and other ethnic minority women in the UK.

“Women of ethnic minority groups have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19 infection but it is unclear what has contributed to this disparity. This project will help us to better understand the impact of the virus on BAME groups. Importantly, the involvement of women throughout this project will keep it grounded in what is actually important to women.”

The project will be carried out in partnership with the Caribbean and African Health Network and the University of Bristol, and last for one year, beginning at the start of 2021.

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