'I was bleeding profusely but sent home': Inquiry finds ‘systemic racism’ in maternity care

'I didn't know if my baby was dying, I didn't know if I was dying.' Tinu Alikor tells Sejal Karia about her experiences of maternity care as a black woman

A black mother-of-three who was turned away from hospital during her pregnancy despite "bleeding profusely" has said it was the result of racism.

Tinu Alikor told ITV News how she experienced heavy bleeding and "begged to be examined," but was sent home instead.

"I didn't know if my baby was dying, I didn't know if I was dying, I just had no idea what was happening," she said.

When she was finally examined, Ms Alikor was hospitalised for two weeks.

"I don't know on what planet anybody thinks it's okay to turn away a bleeding pregnant woman who's begging to be examined," she said.

But she added, "sadly I think it's because I was a black woman, and I'm sad to say that even in my most vulnerable state I wasn't cared for, I wasn't looked after, and so many women experience this."

"I could have lost my life, I could have lost my baby, and no woman should have to go through that."

'Systemic racism'

Ms Alikor is not alone. Black and Asian women are experiencing harm as a result of "systemic racism" in maternity care, according to a year-long investigation by the charity Birthrights.

Findings included evidence of a lack of physical and psychological safety, as well as experiences of being ignored and disbelieved, dehumanisation, coercion and a lack of choice and consent, the charity said.

Black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, and Asian and mixed race women twice as likely.

“There is nothing ‘wrong’ with black or brown bodies that can explain away the disparities in maternal mortality rates, outcomes and experiences,” Shaheen Rahman QC, who chaired the inquiry, said.

“What is required now is a determined focus on individualised, rights-respecting care.”

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The inquiry panel heard evidence from more than 300 people with lived and professional experience of racial injustice in maternity care.

The panel heard from one woman who said jaundice was not recognised in her black baby and her concerns were dismissed.

“At the hospital the doctor admitted the reading was very high but insisted from the look of him there is nothing to suggest he was severely jaundiced, just a 'slight' yellowing of his eyes,” the woman said.

“They did another reading and sent his bloods off, it was even higher than the last. My baby was immediately hospitalised for several weeks.

“The white staff did not recognise jaundice in a black baby.”

Other interviewees told the panel stories of having sepsis dismissed during birth and a life-threatening blood clot overlooked postnatally.

The Department of Health and Social Care established a taskforce to address racial inequalities in maternity care in February.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Maternity Disparities Taskforce would “level up maternity care for all women."

“It will address factors linked to unacceptable disparities in quality of care, experiences and outcomes.”