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Mum-of-three from Tunbridge Wells believes racism is systemic problem in NHS, as Birthrights inquiry discovers racial injustice in maternity care


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A mum-of-three claims her pleas for examination and pain relief were ignored when pregnant with her 15-month-old daughter and fears the colour of her skin could've been the reason behind her mistreatment.

She has spoken out as a report by childbirth charity Birthrights finds systemic racism within the NHS is risking the safety of people from black, Asian and mixed ethnicity backgrounds, with black women four times more likely to die.

Tinu Alikor speaks out on her horrific experience

The charity spoke to more than 300 people about their professional and lived experience of racial injustice in maternity care.

Women reported feeling unsafe, being denied pain relief, facing racial stereotyping about their pain tolerance, and microaggressions from healthcare staff.

The year-long inquiry has found that black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women - Asian and mixed-race women are twice as likely.

Tinu Alikor, from Tunbridge Wells, fears that she could've become one of those statistics when pregnant with her daughter Gabriella.

Gabriella is now a happy and healthy 15-month-old. Picture: @tinualikor
Gabriella is now a happy and healthy 15-month-old. Picture: @tinualikor

She claims she faced discrimination from healthcare staff at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire, and feared she easily could've lost her life and baby during the ordeal in 2020.

Tinu said: "In my third trimester of pregnancy, I started to lose a lot of blood, so I went to the maternity assessment unit.

"There the nurse told me that I didn't need to be assessed as it's normal to bleed with a UTI and I should go home.

"I knew I had a UTI but the amount of blood I was losing was not normal and I hadn't bled that much other than when I've had a miscarriage.

"I was waiting for two hours to be seen, begging and pleading for an examination - I asked for the senior doctor and they said I didn't need to be assessed even though I was crying thinking I was losing my baby."

Doctors allegedly ignored Tinu when she begged for an examination in her third trimester. Picture: @tinualikor
Doctors allegedly ignored Tinu when she begged for an examination in her third trimester. Picture: @tinualikor

Tinu then went home and called her midwife who was shocked she hadn't been checked and booked her an appointment at the same hospital a day later.

The 39-year-old mother was then reassessed and hospitalised for two weeks, receiving two blood transfusions due to the extreme blood loss.

Tinu added: "It was horrific and avoidable - I could have died from that blood loss - my baby could have died and they were happy to just turn me away and say go home.

"The doctor also wrote in my notes that I had refused examination - I didn't. I begged and begged to be seen and they refused.

"I thought doctors were supposed to have integrity?"

Tinu was scared she would lose her baby. Picture: @tinualikor
Tinu was scared she would lose her baby. Picture: @tinualikor

Sam Foster, Chief Nursing Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “While we are unable to comment on individual patients, there is never an excuse for racism or any form of discrimination.

"Racism has no place in society or our hospitals, and we take complaints very seriously.”

But Tinu and many other women up and down the country believe this is not an isolated incident.

During her second pregnancy Tinu claims she was denied gas and air despite screaming for pain relief during labour.

"I was telling them the baby's coming, asking for help, until the head popped out and then the midwives came running in and realised I wasn't lying," she said.

She has faced similar difficulties in all three of her pregnancies. Picture: @tinualikor
She has faced similar difficulties in all three of her pregnancies. Picture: @tinualikor

The report from Birthrights found that a common stereotype placed on black women is that they have a higher pain tolerance.

Tinu was shocked at this, and said: "My skin colour doesn't mean I don't feel pain in the same way as everyone else."

The panel also heard from healthcare professionals who said colleagues described black women and babies as having “thick, tough, skin”.

There was a similar story for Asian women, with a "princess" stereotype placed on them by healthcare staff and reports of racist dialogue in wards but a fear of speaking up from colleagues.

On top of this, there are deep-rooted issues in medical teaching as health care professionals failed to recognise serious medical conditions such as jaundice in black babies because "white bodies" were considered the norm.

The report has found that black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth. Picture: @tinualikor
The report has found that black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth. Picture: @tinualikor

Tinu continued: "I've had three babies and three bad experiences. That's not a coincidence.

"I was born here, I see myself as British, so I find it very difficult to even acknowledge that I'm being mistreated because of my colour.

"I feel like I'm going to war when I go into the hospital, a place where you go for healing, you go to be cared for you.

"And you go in and you don't know if you're going to come out alive. Is that okay?"

The Birthrights report - which will be sent to MPs - highlights the need for urgent action, including training for health care professionals which highlights diversity.

'I feel like I'm going to war when I go into the hospital...'

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the Maternity Disparities Taskforce set up in February would "level up maternity care for all women".

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

The NHS is also investing £7 million to tackle maternity inequalities and ensure at least 75% of pregnant black, Asian and minority ethnic women are cared for by the same midwives during and after pregnancy by 2024.

Tinu hopes that this is the beginning of rooting out "clear systemic racism" in the healthcare system.

"It's a bit like the police racism. It has to be rooted out," she said.

Women up and down the country are calling for racism to be rooted out of the NHS. Picture: @tinualikor
Women up and down the country are calling for racism to be rooted out of the NHS. Picture: @tinualikor

She is now calling for more accountability from healthcare professionals and consequences for racism.

She said: "These statistics look at the number of deaths, what about the near misses like me?

"We're literally waiting for people to die before making any change."

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