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Birthrights report: Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies

UK human rights charity Birthrights has released a report of findings from its year-long inquiry into racial injustice in UK maternity care, which was supported by Leigh Day.

UK human rights charity Birthrights has released a report of findings from its year-long inquiry into racial injustice in UK maternity care, which was supported by Leigh Day.

Olive Lewin, Ceilidh Robertson, Firdous Ibrahim and Lucy MacBrayne from our clinical negligence department have been working with Birthrights on the inquiry. All four have expertise in representing families in relation to birth injuries and clinical negligence in maternity care and labour.

The report can be read on the Birthrights website.

Partner Olive Lewin is a member of the Inquiry Panel and the team of solicitors have been part of the Inquiry Secretariat, reviewing testimonies from the 300+ women and birthing people who submitted evidence to the inquiry and attended focus groups. Ceilidh, Firdous and Lucy also interviewed participants and attended and contributed to the oral evidence sessions at which the inquiry heard from professional and clinical bodies, experts in maternal mortality and anti-racism, and other charities who work with LGBTQ+ birthing people of colour and refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant women.The Inquiry Secretariat undertook a two-stage analysis of the evidence gathered to identify, test and confirm the main themes, draft the report and suggest calls to action.

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Leigh Day is very pleased to have worked with Birthrights on this crucial investigation. There exists substantial evidence of persistent racial inequities in birth outcomes and experiences in the UK. This inquiry adds important further evidence to this growing body. We hope that change will come.

Following the publication of the report Olive Lewin, partner at Leigh Day and member of the Birthrights inquiry panel, said:

"All women should have the right to proper care, at any time. The fact that Black women are four times more likely to die during what should be a joyous period is disgraceful and completely unacceptable. After working in the medical negligence sector for over 25 years, helping women and their families who have suffered avoidable injuries during their maternity care, I have lost count of the times I have said that lessons need to be learned. But I will keep saying it until we see meaningful change and the inequality behind this heart-breaking statistic is resolved."

Our solicitors who also worked on the inquiry have said of the experience:

“It has been harrowing. The same themes came up repeatedly – microaggressions, dehumanisation, stereotyping, women not being listened to, not feeling safe. Women who do not speak English being denied translators because it is ‘too expensive’. The consequences were, sometimes, devastating – women and babies have died or been catastrophically and irreversibly injured.

“A recent paper published by the NHS Race and Health Observatory concluded that health inequality is rooted in experiences of structural, institutional and interpersonal racism.  The issue needs to be addressed on a systemic level."

- Ceilidh Robertson, solicitor

"I feel privileged to have supported Birthrights on such a crucial inquiry, which is particularly timely considering the number of maternity scandals recently reported in the NHS.

“From the findings of the inquiry, it is clear that stakeholders should prioritise Black and Brown women and birthing people as decision-makers in their care and in the wider maternity system, to ensure patient safety.  I am hopeful that the outcome of this inquiry will drive forward urgent and significant change needed to achieve racial equity in maternity care.”

- Firdous Ibrahim, solicitor 
“The evidence before the inquiry was very powerful. It was incredible to see just how pervasive and persistent some of the key themes, such as the denial of pain relief, were. It is clear that birthing people of colour are being denied some of their most fundamental human rights throughout their maternity care.

“What was so important about the way the inquiry was conducted was that it involved such a thorough analysis of qualitative evidence; this isn’t a study in statistics, it is platform through which birthing people of colour were able to share and speak about their experiences of maternity care, and for these to finally be heard. It is abundantly clear that systemic change is needed urgently.”

Lucy MacBrayne, solicitor

WRH webinar: Black Women’s Health in the UK – Dr Jenny Douglas – Women’s Rights in Healthcare 2019


WRH webinar: Reducing Inequality and risk in childbirth -Women’s Rights in Healthcare 2020 

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