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Fianna Fáil senator says Donnelly needs to provide clarity on maternity restrictions as protest takes place

Senator Lisa Chambers has called for clarity from the HSE on restrictions still in place in some hospitals.

Protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.
Protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.
Image: PA

Updated May 11th 2021, 5:55 PM

FIANNA FÁIL SENATOR Lisa Chambers has called for clarity from the HSE on the lifting of maternity restrictions in hospitals nationwide. 

Her calls come as restrictions remain in place in certain hospitals, with protesters today gathering outside the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.

The HSE advises allowing partners to accompany a woman during labour and childbirth. Partners should also be permitted to attend the 20-week scan and other appointments if deemed necessary. 

Last night, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said there is “no good reason” for maternity hospitals to continue to restrict visits from partners. 

Maternity hospitals and units set individual restrictions, so exclusions on partners attending scans and the early stages of labour still apply in some hospitals. 

“Hospitals have been given too much local discretion and it should be a centralised decision, so we have uniformity of care across the country,” Chambers said. 

“At present, maternity hospitals can decide to retain restrictions due to a Covid outbreak, concern over Covid case numbers or concern over space at the hospital,” she said. 

“Hospitals are often overcrowded and there’s never enough space, the fact hospitals can use this as a reason to maintain restrictions is extremely worrying and means there is no end in sight. We still have no clarity as to when these restrictions will end and the postcode lottery depending on where you go.”

The senator added: “We are not listening to women’s voices and we know women’s mental health is being adversely affected. We need leadership from the HSE in directing the hospitals to ensure we have equal care across the country.” 

Protest

Today’s protest was organised by AIMS Ireland – the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services.  

Chairperson of AIMs Ireland, Krysia Lynch, said the protesters want an end to these restrictions still being in place. 

“Initially, absolutely they were required. We didn’t know what was going on and nobody knew what was happening. We didn’t know what the situation was with respect to Covid-19,” she told The Journal. 

“Now, we have a fully vaccinated maternity service. We have people who are able to go to Penneys today, we have an easing of restrictions, we’ve had Tony Holohan say that there’s no public health reason why the restrictions shouldn’t be lifted, and people continue to have to come into hospital on their own antenatally and, most particularly, if they’re having an induction, and that’s extremely difficult for people,” she said. 

PXL_20210511_100200970 AIMS Ireland chair Krysia Lynch. Source: Orla Dwyer

She said midwives have been providing a good service, but said they need more support to “cover all the clinical work that they have to do, plus all of the emotional support that they need to give people”.

“We’re hoping for an approach that is going to result in the minister [for Health Stephen Donnelly], the HSE and the heads of the hospital groups coming together and actually finding a solution that’s best for women, babies and their partners, and I think we need leadership with that.”

The group held a number of small protests outside other maternity hospitals and units across the country today. 

Impacts

Last week, The Journal reported multiple experiences of women impacted by partner restrictions during pregnancy and birth. 

Laurel Fiszer Storey described as “insane” that her husband can’t attend her fertility appointments.

“I’m going through fertility treatment at the moment and due to the current restrictions, my husband can’t come in for embryo transfer which is basically when I get pregnant,” she said this morning.

“I don’t have that support, he doesn’t have that connection. It’s taking any bit of intimacy that we can have out the process.

PXL_20210511_101408743 The protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital this morning. Source: Orla Dwyer

“I’m also looking at being pregnant so I’m really worried about having to go for appointments. I had a high risk pregnancy last time, and it’s vital for women to have support. 

“You need as much support as you can possible get, specifically from your partner. Your partner is a parent too.”

Another woman in attendance at the protest, who preferred not to be named, received news at nine weeks pregnant that her child could have Down Syndrome or a fatal foetal abnormality. 

She was alone at the time as her partner was not permitted to attend the appointment.

She said it was a “big shock on my own, not to have someone with me” when receiving the news.

“Even if there’s not extended visitors [allowed], that’s understandable, but your partner should be there to support you. They should be allowed to be there to support you throughout,” she said.

Gosia Stach, who has a PhD in maternity care services in Ireland, is hopeful that Covid-19 will help people to “understand across the board how women are treated in our maternity services”.

We’re discussing so many other restrictions. We’re discussing restaurants, we’re discussing matches, but we are not specifically discussing maternity services as if women’s healthcare was just part of something, not something unique.

PXL_20210511_100238329 Gosia Stach at today's protest on Holles Street. Source: Orla Dwyer

“I think it’s shocking. It shows the approach to women and women’s healthcare, but I also think it’s just another example. I’ve seen it time and again – there is a maternity care scandal and nothing happens. There’s reports and nothing changes.”

Speaking to press this afternoon, the Health Minister said if there is a Covid-19 outbreak at a hospital, concerns about Covid-19 infection among hospital staff or a high rate of Covid-19 in the immediate area, maternity hospitals or units have the “discretion” to alter HSE guidelines. 

He said the HSE has “insisted” that any deviation must be justified and explained in writing. 

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“The HSE probably has the balance right in terms of reiterating the fact that there does need to be broad access, but acknowledging that there are local considerations,” Donnelly said. 

He said “nobody wants” instances of people waiting in car parks while their partner’s are induced into labour. 

The Journal contacted some hospital groups this morning for clarification of their individual maternity visitation policies in place.

The National Maternity Hospital allows partners to attend the 20-week scan, the labour ward or C-section theatre, and inpatient visits for a limited time to postnatal, antenatal or gynaecology wards.

A statement from the Ireland East Hospital Group said some of its maternity units “cannot further ease partner restrictions” at the moment due to the “high amount” of Covid-19 in the community and infrastructure issues at hospitals. 

The Regional Hospital in Mullingar and Wexford General Hospital allow partners to attend the 20-week scan and active labour and scheduled caesarean sections. 

In St Luke’s General Hospital Carlow/Kilkenny, the group statement said it hopes to facilitate partners at the 20-week scan “as soon as possible”. Partners can currently attend active labour and scheduled C-sections. 

Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise said partners can attend the anatomy scan, birth once a woman is admitted to the delivery suite, C-sections and the postnatal ward for an hour. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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