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RCOG calls for government action to tackle racial inequalities in women’s healthcare

News 6 March 2020

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, the RCOG has released a policy statement summarising current information around the racial inequalities that persist in women’s healthcare in the UK.

  • Black women have more than five times the risk of dying in pregnancy or up to six weeks postpartum compared with white women.
  • Similar trends have also been observed in the care and outcomes of infants and in women with gynaecological conditions, including various cancers.
  • The RCOG is holding a special event on Friday 6 March to mark International Women’s Day - titled ‘We need to talk about race’ - with a wide range of speakers including women sharing their experiences of care, top clinicians and leading academics.

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

Action is needed swiftly with current trends showing an increased rate of adverse health experiences in 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.

Dr Ranee Thakar, Vice President of the RCOG, and convener of the International Women’s Day event, 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.”

The policy statement released by the RCOG today factors this essential consideration into a recommendation calling for medical research to become more inclusive to ensure the right choices are being made.

The statement recommends that experiences need to be logged and data sets widened to encapsulate the vast breadth of the effects of racial inequalities in the UK.

This will help to pinpoint areas of most pressing concern and potential causes, allowing for the preparation of a plan of action to be commenced at the first possible opportunity.

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

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 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. Women and girls are at the forefront of all the work that we do and their views and experiences will be of greater importance than ever in forcing this essential societal shift.”

The RCOG will also be ensuring women’s voices at the heart of the debate when we stage our International Women’s Day event on Friday 6 March.

This sold-out event will see discussion with women as the users of O&G services, top clinicians, as well as leading academics, to shine a light on the persistent health inequalities in the UK.

Catherine Nestor, co-Vice Chair of the RCOG’s Women’s Network, 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 literally costing lives. The main focus of our work in the RCOG Women’s Network is ensuring that women’s voices are heard and their views and experiences used to shape education, guidance and policies around their care. In order to reduce these disparities, we must open the debate and ensure women’s voices are at the centre of it.”





Note to editors


Read the policy statement, here.

To see the programme for our International Women’s Day event, click here.

For those unable to attend, the day will be broadcast live on Facebook and there will also be updates across our other social media channels. Follow @rcobsgyn on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

About the RCOG

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.