The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have responded to the publication of a large UKOSS study on the outcomes of 427 pregnant women and their babies during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK.
The study found that 55% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with coronavirus were from a black, Asian or other minority ethnic (BAME) background (13% of the UK population identify themselves as BAME).
Overall, the results show that between 1 March and 14 April 2020, 4.9 pregnant women per 1000 were admitted to hospital in the UK with coronavirus and around 1 in 10 of those received intensive care. This supports the RCOG and RCM clinical guidance that pregnant woman are at no greater risk of severe illness than the non-pregnant population.
Older pregnant women, those who were overweight or obese, and pregnant women with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes were also more likely to be admitted to hospital. In total, 5 pregnant women with coronavirus sadly died during this period, but it is unclear at this stage if coronavirus was the cause of death.
The majority of women who did become severely ill were in their third trimester of pregnancy, emphasising the importance of social distancing for this group.
The UKOSS study is being conducted by the University of Oxford with input from key partners, such as the RCOG.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: “Addressing health inequalities is a key strategic priority for the RCOG and we continue to urge the Government to tackle these across women’s health as a matter of urgency.
“There is a pressing need to record and analyse all coronavirus hospital admissions and deaths in detail, and to establish why this striking ethnic variation exists.
“We already know women from certain ethic groups may be more likely to have pre-existing health conditions and complications, and socioeconomic inequalities impact on the accessibility of health services, and lead to poorer outcomes. We need to better understand these complex factors and how to make services fully accessible and inclusive so that no woman is left behind.”
Royal College of Midwives’ Head of Quality and Safety, Zeenath Uddin, said: “Clearly any maternal death is a tragedy. We owe it to these families to understand why this has happened and prevent other families from going through the same trauma. Alongside this, we need to ensure that there are no barriers to women seeking, and receiving, help and support during their pregnancy.
“While we may not yet know why, we know that expectant mothers from BAME backgrounds are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population. It is why midwives are not only following up with those women who have missed appointments but also offering them additional appointments where necessary.”
Dr Christine Ekechi, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, and spokesperson on racial equality for the RCOG, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the five deaths in pregnant women and our heartfelt sympathies and thoughts are with their families during this very difficult time.
“It is of great concern that over half – 55% – of pregnant women admitted to hospital with coronavirus were from a BAME background, and this deepens our concerns around persisting vulnerabilities of this particular group of women.
“We are updating our guidance to reflect that BAME women should be told at each contact with a health professional that they may be at higher risk of complications of coronavirus, and advised to seek help early if they are concerned about their health. Healthcare professionals should be aware of this increased risk, and have a lower threshold to review, admit and consider multidisciplinary escalation in women of BAME background.”
Shaista Gohir, RCOG Women’s Voices Lead, said: “At the RCOG, we will continue to ensure the voices of women and their families remain at the heart of improving healthcare services to be fully inclusive, to reduce health variations, and to make sure every woman receives the very best care, experience and outcome.”