Regional Perinatal Equity Network celebrates first anniversary

Maternity and neonatal practitioners came together in the South West this month to celebrate one year since the launch of the Regional Perinatal Equity Network, marking the anniversary with talks on perinatal inequalities from speakers including obstetrician Dr Christine Ekechi, author Kim Thomas and the Positive Birth Company.

The Regional Perinatal Equity Network (RPEN), a collaboration between the West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) and South West AHSN came from a growing commitment from those working in perinatal care across the region to work together to address inequality within maternity and neonatal services. The network is delivered by both AHSNs as part of NHS England’s Maternity & Neonatal Safety Improvement Programme.

The milestone RPEN event gave the opportunity to reflect on the aims of the network and what it has to celebrate. Its first year has seen over 250 attendees across four events with a range of distinguished speakers. It is growing steadily as a community, offering a safe space to explore issues which practitioners may not have time to do elsewhere. Recently, Maternal and Neonatal Clinical Lead at the West of England AHSN, Ann Remmers, looked back on a successful first year of RPEN in a blog.

During the anniversary event, attendees heard from several prominent speakers about the positive action that has been and continues to be taken to tackle health inequity in perinatal care.

First to speak was Dr Christine Ekechi, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, London, and Co-Chair of the Race Equality Taskforce at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

After sharing the shocking statistics from FivexMore’s The Black Maternity Experiences Survey that black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and Asian women are twice as likely to die in pregnancy, Dr Ekechi discussed the causes behind and factors contributing to this huge gap in perinatal equity, including social deprivation and structural racism. Dr Ekechi highlighted the positive and inspiring action that has been taken over the last two years, including the setup of organisations and taskforces, provision of resources, and investment.

Kim Thomas, author, journalist and CEO of Birth Trauma Association spoke to the group about postnatal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and inequalities. PTSD following childbirth affects 1 in 25 women – approximately 25,000-30,000 women in the UK. Partners can also experience PTSD. Poor care is a contributory factor.

Kim’s talk included information and statistics from The Black Maternity Experiences survey on accessing help and why some women don’t seek help, as well as recommendations for improvement.

Charlotte Burrows, Programme Director – Design at South West AHSN, shared the latest findings from research undertaken by SW AHSN’s Perinatal Health Equity Programme. As part of the South West AHSN’s Perinatal Health Equity Programme, Apollo Health Innovations was commissioned to explore birthing peoples’ lived experiences of perinatal care through a series of focus groups, interviews and online conversations. The report is informing the programme in its aim of identifying and spreading innovative practice to close health equity gaps in the South West region.

Our final speaker was Angie Driver, Head of Operations at the Positive Birth Company (PBC), a company whose mission is to make birth education more accessible for all.

Angie used the event to launch the PBC’s new cultural competency workshop. Closing the gap: addressing racial disparities in antenatal services & birth outcomes shares learning for healthcare professionals and is CPD accredited.

Attendees and speakers were thanked for their contributions to the network since its launch, and for their passion, enthusiasm and dedication to champion this cause and work towards making a difference. The event closed with practitioners being invited to share reflections on the last year and make a personal pledge for the upcoming year.

Join our next RPEN event on 25 January 2023. Learn more and register here.

About the Regional Perinatal Equity Network (RPEN)

Our ambition is to serve as a community of practice, exploring the delivery of meaningful, actionable improvements to reduce inequity of outcomes for black, brown and racially minoritized women and families within the perinatal system. Health inequalities are not restricted to race and ethnicity and this network seeks to understand the wider distribution of burden by socioeconomic markers of inequality and the complex interplay of multiple markers of inequity.

The network is open to all working within maternity and newborn services, related organisations or those with a responsibility or interest in reducing inequalities in the NHS. Parents and parent partners are also warmly welcomed to join.

To read more about our Maternal and Neonatal Safety Improvement Programme work visit our webpage or subscribe to our newsletter