It’s OK to Ask – Maternity’s ground-breaking equity films

Maternity services across Suffolk and north east Essex have responded to a recent national inquiry into racial injustice and human rights in maternity care by launching a ground-breaking new initiative which aims to eradicate health inequalities for diverse communities.  

It’s OK to ask is a project that debunks the myths around discussions on ethnicity, gender identity and disability for fear of offending, and aims to improve the maternity experience for all.

Called It’s OK to Ask it features a series of short films with local people from various backgrounds who have lived experience of maternity services. The theme is a common one – ask us about our ethnicity, disability, gender identity and highlighting that it’s neither racist, discriminatory or homophobic to talk with people about their specific needs – in fact, it’s necessary and appropriate in order to put the person at the centre of their care.

These films are the first of their kind ever to be produced by an NHS maternity system and will be used as an educational resource not only in maternity but for universities, GPs, health visitors, public health and county councils.

Watch the trailer for the films

The 11 short films are set to be premiered at First Site Colchester on October 18, being showcased to invited health care and care staff and partners from across the local system. You can now view all of the films on Vimeo.

In May 2022 the charity Birthrights concluded a year-long national inquiry that called for work to be done to improve maternity services for all, with stark findings including Black women are five times and Asian women two times more likely to die in the perinatal period than white women.

In response to the findings of the report the NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Local Maternity and Neonatal System (LMNS) has committed to addressing the issues raised and is dedicated to addressing inequity in maternity services. This means improving the maternity experience for all, including those with learning disabilities, people from the LGBTQ+ community, people who are seeking sanctuary and those from the gypsy and traveller communities.

The LMNS has been working hard over the last year including working in partnership with community organisations to create maternity advocates and ambassadors.  

Teri Gavin Jones, who is clinical maternity lead for the NHS in Suffolk and north east Essex, says: “The publication of the Birthrights report made difficult reading. We understand that we need to act now. We are leading the way in using our community sector to direct where we should focus maternity services.

“However, as a midwife I understand how challenging it is to open a conversation around ethnicity. There is definitely a fear of causing offence, which has for too long been a barrier for staff.  These films highlight very clearly that the risk of causing offence to someone is very much a myth, and we need to understand that treating someone as an individual means acknowledging they are Black, Brown, disabled or from the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone is different and everyone is unique.

“We’re incredibly grateful to all the film participants who spoke honestly and openly about their experiences of maternity. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But what was clear was their desire that maternity staff should not be afraid of asking questions that will support their physical and emotional health before, during and after the birth of their baby.”