Despite Government guidance permitting partners or loved ones to attend both scans and the entirety of labour, many NHS Trusts around the country are asking expectant mothers to attend important appointments and go through the early stages of labour alone.
We sometimes forget that maternity care is not just about delivering healthy babies, but about navigating the most distressing moments in a person’s life; the moments where they need their partner or an immediate family member.
That is why I launched a national campaign to make sure every Trust does right by pregnant women and their partners, and ensures women have support at all pregnancy scans and all stages of labour. I was pleased to have the support of 60 Conservative MPs in calling on every Trust in the country to update their policies in line with Government guidance.
I’ve secured the backing of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock for my campaign who has called on all NHS Trusts to adopt Government guidance, as well as the Mail on Sunday who featured it as their front-page news story. I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has also confirmed his support for my campaign.
I have been enormously lucky that my NHS Trust changed its procedures immediately when lockdown ended, so my husband attended both scans for our baby. But I lead this campaign because it is unjust that women in so much of the country do not have the same support from their loved ones, and to fight for the partners locked out of hospital rooms anxiously separated from those they love most in the world.
I am delighted that after months of campaigning NHS England has now (December) issued new guidance to NHS Trusts on ensuring partners are able to support women throughout their pregnancies.
NHS England is now asking Trusts to adopt three simple steps:
1) Undertake an appropriate risk assessment in each part of their maternity service,
2) Make creative changes to the configuration of all maternity spaces where appropriate, to ensure mothers can have their support person attend, and
3) Use available testing capacity (eg PCR, rapid PCR testing, or lateral flow testing) to test women and their support person to help mitigate infection risks, in particular for:
- Scan appointments
- Fetal medicine appointments
- At birth
- And for parents whose babies require neonatal care
Women should not be refused access to asymptomatic partners while test results are pending and where appropriate infection control can be maintained.
The guidance also states that women should have access to support at all times during their maternity journey and Trusts should facilitate this, while keeping the risk of transmission within NHS maternity services as low as possible. Including making sure that the woman can safely take a support person to:
- Early pregnancy unit
- All antenatal scans
- Labour and birth from the point of attendance at the hospital or midwifery unit
- As well as, those who are admitted for early pregnancy loss, on the antenatal or postnatal ward in line with pre-COVID Trust policies
I am very relieved to see this new guidance issued as I have been calling for NHS England to leave NHS Trusts in no doubt that they should be doing all they can to ensure partners are present at all scans and all stages of labour, and that the rapid tests made available to all Trusts by the Government be used for both mother and their support person.
There is no excuse for women to be labouring alone, losing a baby with no support or finding out the worst news alone at a scan. These measures will keep clinicians safe and reduce the trauma of women across our country.
The Guidance is available in full here: https://bit.ly/3gPYeyt