New Learning Network Set to Improve Maternal and Neonatal Health Outcomes

A landmark Learning and Action Network designed to address stark disparities in maternal, perinatal and neonatal health outcomes for women from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds will officially launch on January 24.

The NHS Race and Health Observatory, in partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and supported by the Health Foundation, have established an innovative 15-month, peer-to-peer Learning and Action Network to address the gaps seen in severe maternal morbidity, perinatal mortality and neonatal morbidity between women of different ethnic groups. Across England, nine NHS Trusts and Integrated Care Systems will participate.

Data consistently show alarmingly higher rates of maternal and baby deaths amongst Black and Asian women compared to their White counterparts.  In the UK, Black British mothers are up to four times more likely than White mothers to die during pregnancy or within the first six weeks after childbirth. The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is three times higher for mothers of mixed ethnicity than for White mothers and twice as high for women of Asian ethnicity.

The programme will be supported by an advisory group made up of experts in midwifery, maternal and neonatal medicine, and nursing and will run until June 2025.  Dame Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England and Kate Brintworth, Chief Midwifery Officer for England are among healthcare leaders, nursing and maternal experts speaking at the launch event.

The Network, the first of its kind for the NHS, will combine Quality Improvement with explicit anti-racism principles to drive clinical transformation and aims to enable system-wide change.  Over a series of action, learning and coaching sessions, participants will use Quality Improvement methods; review policies, processes and workforce metrics; share insights and case studies; and hear from mothers, parents and pregnant women and people.

Professor Habib Naqvi, chief executive, NHS Race and Health Observatory, said:

“We are delighted to be working with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the Health Foundation and a range of healthcare providers, on this collaborative learning and action-focused programme.

“It’s clear that long-standing racial disparities in maternal and neonatal health outcomes require urgent action. The mission of the Observatory is not just to highlight the scale of disparities, but to also provide practical, evidence-based solutions to those challenges. That’s why we’ll be working alongside healthcare providers, from across the country, to make practical progress in addressing these inequalities in a sustained and meaningful way.”

As part of the Learning and Action Network, each team will outline their objectives, key measures, and targets to reduce and manage risks. Priority areas are haemorrhage, preterm birth, post-partum depression and gestational diabetes. Tailored action plans will be developed with each team to explore measures to tackle these, with findings factoring an embedded equity lens.

Longer term, the programme will see the development of new equitable policy recommendations for maternity providers and build a repository of best practice for potential replication across the country.

Kate Brintworth, chief midwifery officer for England, said:

“One of our key ambitions in the NHS three-year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services is to reduce inequalities for all in access, experience, and outcomes.

“This new network will help to accelerate local improvements in maternity and neonatal services, helping to ensure safer, more personalised and equitable maternity care for all women, babies and families.”

Pedro Delgado, vice president, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said:

We continue to learn from our work globally that there is no quality without equity, and there is no equality without equity. Furthermore, inequities lead to harm and suffering. We value the partnership with the Observatory and the Health Foundation and look forward to working with NHS Trusts and Integrated Care Systems to measurably close race related equity gaps for and with mothers and babies using improvement methods, building on their existing efforts.

“The aspiration is to accelerate the pace of improvement, partner closely with mothers and families, foster collaboration across the system and use the intensive learning with these teams to inform approaches to scale up and spread impactful changes over time that will reduce harm, suffering, and improve outcomes”.

The project was announced in September 2023 following an Expression of Interest issued by the Observatory inviting NHS provider and system sites to join by submitting applications.

Dr Malte Gerhold, director of Innovation and Improvement at the Health Foundation, said:

“Successful quality improvement in health care relies not just on the use of robust methodologies, but on bringing together staff across boundaries, building relationships, and developing new solutions together, including with patients. And critical in this joint effort is making sure that it improves care for everyone, and particularly those receiving poorer outcomes, access or quality.

“We hope that through these new action and learning networks the RHO and IHI can demonstrate a way to achieve this, and help making equity a central component of all future improvement activity in the NHS.”


Participating sites include:

  1. Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust / Birmingham and Solihull ICS
  2. Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire ICS
  3. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust / North-West London ICS
  4. Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust / Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS
  5. St Mary’s Hospital (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) / Greater Manchester ICS
  6. North Central London ICS
  7. North-East London ICS
  8. Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust/ Greater Manchester ICS
  9. University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust / Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICS