Pregnant women from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds should be fast-tracked to hospital because of their increased risk of coronavirus, NHS England has said.
Doctors and midwives have been told to relax their criteria for reviewing and admitting BAME women to hospital or escalating any concerns about their health. NHS England also said it wanted to see “tailored communications” specifically aimed at supporting women from BAME backgrounds.
The healthcare body is also recommending that women with darker skin, or who cover their skin while outside, consider taking daily vitamin D supplements throughout the year, after research suggested that those with lower vitamin D levels were at higher risk from coronavirus. Hospital staff will be expected to discuss vitamins with all women.
Hospitals are also being urged to thoroughly record coronavirus risk factors for all women, including ethnicity, health conditions, age, body mass index (BMI) and whether they live in a deprived area.
Research published in the British Medical Journal in late May found that pregnant black women were eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with coronavirus than pregnant white women, while pregnant Asian women were four times more likely.
The data, compiled from 427 women across 194 obstetric units in the UK, found that 56% of the women were from BAME backgrounds, while 69% were overweight. Of the group, 41% were aged 35 or over, and 34% had underlying health conditions.
Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, the chief midwifery officer for England, wrote to all maternity units explaining the expectations on staff and reassuring pregnant women.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
This week, all hospitals have been instructed to complete risk assessments for staff who are at higher risk of coronavirus.
It comes after NHS England apologised after an investigation that found just 23% of health trusts in England had conducted risk assessments for their staff members from BAME backgrounds.
Trusts were told that BAME staff were at greater risk from coronavirus two months ago, and advised to undertake risk assessments by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens. An investigation by Sky News found that of the 149 trusts who replied to freedom of information requests, only 34 had completed the risk assessments, while 91 others said it was in progress.
Prerana Issar, chief people officer for NHS England, said the results were disappointing.
“We have some good practices where people are pulling out all the stops where their staff are accessing risk assessments, but I’m sorry that not everyone has been risk assessed from their managers,” she said, adding that protecting staff was the “number-one priority of the NHS”.