By Zeenath Uddin
Head of quality and safety
Royal College of Midwives
THERE is barely a corner of the world that hasn’t been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We will know friends or family, both here and overseas, who have had the disease. Most will have experienced it only mildly and are on their way to recovery, but many – too many – have had to receive hospital care, and thousands have sadly died.
Covid-19 is a disease that has not hit all communities equally. We know that, among the healthcare workers who have lost their lives, a significant number were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. We don’t yet understand why this is, but we do know how to protect ourselves – and each other.
Don’t assume that this only applies to men or to older people. If you are pregnant and you are Asian, you are also at higher risk. We already know that, even before the current pandemic, women from Asian backgrounds were twice as likely to die in childbirth than the average population.
A recent study has found that over half (55 per cent) of UK pregnant women admitted to hospital with coronavirus were from BAME backgrounds. We do not yet completely understand why, although we know there are links to underlying health problems like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disorders that make women from these backgrounds more vulnerable to the virus.
It may also be the type of work they do, as there is a disproportionately high number of frontline key workers from these communities. Or it could be their housing conditions – deprived areas, overcrowded housing and living in multi-generation households may increase their chanced of getting Covid-19.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is determined to ensure you and your baby are safe throughout and beyond your pregnancy. That’s why we’ve launched a campaign to help you take care of yourself and your baby – and to seek help when you need it.
As part of the campaign, the RCM has published a poster for pregnant women with straightforward advice on keeping you and your baby safe during the pandemic. If you have signs or symptoms of the virus, like a cough or a fever, call NHS 111 for advice. It’s really important to let your midwife know if there’s anything unusual going on, particularly if you are worried about your baby’s movements, find blood in your underwear or when you go to the loo, or have constant abdominal pain or sudden or severe headaches.
Make sure you attend all your antenatal appointments so your midwife can check that you are staying well and your baby is growing well. And if your midwife is visiting you at home, make sure you have a private space so they can examine you and you can have a chat.
You may be thinking, ‘but the NHS is so busy, I don’t want to worry anyone’. Or maybe you are worried about exposure to the virus if you have to go to hospital. Maternity services are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they are safe. Midwives would rather you make contact to make sure everything is okay, because delaying or not coming forward may mean that your condition may become more serious.
We know that this virus is not affecting NHS staff equally. Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of healthcare workers who died with Covid-19 are from BAME backgrounds. These inequalities show the barriers and systemic discrimination faced by people from non-white backgrounds, and these trends are not diminishing.
The RCM is doing all it can to ensure that midwives and maternity support workers are properly protected, particularly those who are at increased risk, including those from BAME backgrounds. We have published guidance for employers to support and protect staff who may be at a higher risk and also advice for RCM members around their rights to proper risk assessment.
It should not be the case that whether you have a safe pregnancy or whether you come home at the end of an NHS shift during this pandemic is dependent on the colour of your skin. Every woman has the right to the best possible pregnancy and birth, regardless of her race or background. And every member of NHS staff deserves to be treated with care and respect, including those from BAME backgrounds. The RCM is determined that this is the case for every pregnant woman and every member of maternity staff, throughout this current crisis and beyond.