Pregnant BAME women should get more support due to Covid-19 risk, NHS England urges

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Amy Lewis

Pregnant women from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds will receive more NHS support after research showed they are at higher risk from Covid-19.

The data, from 427 pregnant women, found that 56% of the group were from BAME backgrounds, 69% were overweight or obese, 41% were aged 35 or over, and 34% had pre-existing health conditions.

NHS England is calling on doctors and midwives to lower their threshold for reviewing and admitting BAME pregnant women to hospital or for escalating any concerns to other team members.

Hospitals will also be expected to discuss vitamins and supplements with all women after research suggested those with low levels of vitamin D may be more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Women with darker skin or those who always cover their skin when outside may be at particular risk from low vitamin D and should consider taking a daily supplement all year-round, NHS England said.

Hospitals are also being urged to record the ethnicity of every woman, as well as other risk factors, such as whether women live in a deprived area, what other health conditions they have, their body mass index (BMI) and their age.

NHS England also wants to see “tailored communications” to help support women from BAME backgrounds.

Dr Meenal Viz has campaigned for better support for people from a BAME background. Credit: ITV News

But doctor and campaigner Dr Meenal Viz says the recommendations do not go far enough.

Dr Viz has been campaigning for those from a BAME background to get more support during the pandemic told ITV News more needs to be done to protect pregnant women.

"NHS England today put out recommendations to that they need to lower the threshold for those who are pregnant from BAME backgrounds to come into hospital," she says.

"But what exactly does that mean? What do I need to look out as a pregnant woman? Is there something specific I need to look out for? That's even added to my anxiety again because it's not specific enough."

Research from 194 obstetric units in the UK, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) at the end of May, found that black pregnant women are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than white women, while Asian women are four times as likely.

Dr Viz said "it was a bit of a double hit."

"We're not only vulnerable because we're pregnant, but also because of our ethnicity."

"Not only are we in lockdown and I can't meet my family, I can't do the usual things I would love to do during my pregnant, but also knowing I'm at a higher risk due to my background leaves me with a really big anxiety," she told ITV News.

Chief midwifery officer for England, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has written to all maternity units outlining the action they must take. She said: “While Public Health England is continuing to assess and advise on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on ethnic groups, I want to make sure that the NHS is doing everything we can to reach out, reassure and support those pregnant women and new mums most at risk.

Credit: ITV News

“Understandably, the pandemic has caused pregnant women increased anxiety over the last couple of months, but I want to make sure that every pregnant woman in England knows that the NHS is here for them – if you have any doubt whatsoever that something isn’t right with you or your baby, contact your midwife immediately.”

Gill Watson, Chief Executive Royal College of Midwives told ITV News that the support could take the form of more contact with a midwife or an obstetrician and a "very tight timescale for admitting women to hospital if they are not very well."

NHS England said some women are dismissing fears such as unusual foetal movement due to concerns about attending hospital and catching coronavirus.

All hospitals have also been instructed this week to complete risk assessments for all staff who are at risk of Covid-19.