Some hospitals still not allowing partners to be present at childbirth
Restrictions on hospital visitors because of COVID-19 have hit maternity services hard.
According to NHS England, “NHS guidance was issued on 8 September so that partners and visitors can attend maternity units. This builds on the determined effort throughout the pandemic to ensure partners were able to be present during labour”.
Try telling that to the Saeed family.
Iram didn’t give birth at the height of lockdown. She gave birth in north London’s Whipps Cross Hospital just two weeks ago.
There was no space in the labour ward, so Iram gave birth in the Mulberry Ward where she was initially admitted.
“They said it was against the protocol, they can’t let my husband in,” she explained. “He was waiting in the car park, hoping they might let him come in, but they didn’t. It was so painful to be there on my own, with no one by my side.”
She requested an epidural and repeatedly asked for pain relief, at one point dropping the gas and air out of the bed. Eventually the midwife went to get diamorphine.
“It literally took them one hour and no one came back, and in that time I delivered my baby on my own and there was no one by my side. It was really difficult for me, and I can’t even express in words how painful it was. It was really miserable. I was crying for help.
“When I told my husband I had delivered the baby, he said, ‘What? You are being treated like an animal and no one was there when you were giving birth’. He was so angry, he was upset.”
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Iram’s husband Rehan was on the phone to his wife and heard what was going on from the car park.
At one point he heard a nurse saying in exasperation: “I don’t understand why partners aren’t allowed in”. Later he heard the sound of a baby crying – but only realised 20 minutes later, when his wife picked up the phone, that was the moment when Yousuf had been born.
Even after missing the birth, he was initially told that he could only stay with his wife for half an hour before having to leave again. He eventually managed to persuade them to allow him to stay for two hours.
Rehan blames under-staffing and a lack of beds for his wife not being allowed to give birth in the labour ward. “When I said I was going to complain, the midwives said, ‘Yes, please do, it will help our situation. We are massively under-staffed’.”
Whipps Cross Hospital is now looking into the complaint.
A spokesperson for Barts Health NHS Trust, which manages the hospital, said: “We are deeply sorry to hear about the concerns raised by Rehan Saeed and Iram Saeed regarding the care received during the birth of their child and have offered to meet the family to discuss their concerns.
“To keep patients, staff and visitors safe during the pandemic we have had to restrict families visiting our hospital, but an exception has been made so that partners can attend 12 and 20 week scans as well as throughout labour and birth.”
In September new guidance was issued asking trusts to relax visiting restrictions so partners can attend maternity units for appointments and births.
NHS England’s chief midwifery officer wrote to all maternity units on 19 September, stating: “Now that the peak of the first wave has passed… guidance was issued on 8 September so that partners and visitors can attend maternity units.
“This builds on the determined effort throughout the pandemic to ensure partners were able to be present during labour.
“We thank you and are grateful the majority of services have quickly implemented this guidance and relaxed visiting restrictions. To those that are still working through the guidance, this must happen now so that partners are able to attend maternity units for appointments and births.”
But it seems the advice is being applied inconsistently – data compiled by The Guardian last month showed only 23% of trusts are allowing partners to attend the whole labour and half of women are having to attend scan appointments alone.
And rising COVID-19 cases could mean renewed restrictions. Liverpool Women’s Hospital has temporarily stopped antenatal and postnatal visits.
Public health doctors Sebastian Walsh, Rebecca West and Fiona Simmons-Jones asked English hospital trusts what their restrictions were on birth partners at the end of August – and if they had any “firm plans” to change them in the event of a second wave.
Of 127 trusts that provide maternity services, 81 replied. Of those, 17 (21%) said they would reimpose restrictions in the event of rising virus rates, and just over half said they would review their policy.
Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health select committee, said: “I’m disappointed that we haven’t sorted this problem out, and the heart of this issue is not just the most obvious thing – that it is really a moment when you have to have a loved one with you.
“We on the select committee heard some very harrowing stories of mums who have been very worried that something’s about to go wrong and have not had the person they need most in the world to be there. I know that in most cases the NHS maternity units are finding a way to let a loved one in but it’s not happening everywhere and we really do need to sort it out.”
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