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HSE chief Paul Reid speaking at today's press briefing
HSE chief Paul Reid speaking at today's press briefing
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

HSE chief says roadmap to easing maternity hospital restrictions 'would be valuable'

There has been criticism in recent months of the different approaches taken by maternity hospitals.
Aug 12th 2021, 3:43 PM 16,043 43

Updated Aug 12th 2021, 7:52 PM

HSE CHIEF PAUL Reid has said he welcomes calls from campaigns for the publication of a roadmap on how maternity restrictions will be eased going forward, saying it would be “valuable”. 

There has been criticism in recent months of the different approaches taken by maternity hospitals, with some found not to be fully compliant with official guidance – having tighter restrictions on partner access during labour and at pre-natal appointments.

Linda Kelly, a campaigner for better maternity care, said that women are being made to feel like “second-class citizens” by the ongoing restrictions in the country’s maternity units.

Kelly, who is one of thousands of mothers who gave birth since restrictions were brought in, said that a workable solution is needed for pregnant women and their partners.

“We are calling on the Cabinet sub-committee (on Covid-19) to publish a roadmap at the end of August to reopen, and that they include a dedicated road map for maternity so we know how we will come out of this situation,” Kelly said. 

“There hasn’t been a consistent approach from the HSE as to why they are continuing to exclude partners from certain aspects of maternity care,” she said.

“That is one of things that has been distressing for families, is that there hasn’t been a logical, consistent position from the HSE.”

Campaigners also say that PCR tests or rapid antigen tests should be used by partners to gain access to appointments and maternity wards.

Speaking at the weekly HSE press briefing, Paul Reid said he welcomes the call for finding a roadmap to easing maternity restrictions. 

He said: 

“That’s the way we would like to move forward as well … trying to see that roadmap, I think that will be valuable for all of us.

The HSE chief said that a “finding a roadmap would be good”, but added that “it would be misleading to say we can predict when we’re going to be [back to] normal”. 

Reid said he will be talking to the Chief Clinical Officer about the issues surrounding maternity hospitals “very shortly”. 

When asked whether Covid-19 testing could play a role in maternity hospitals, Reid said: “Those are in the mix … at different stages of the transmission levels in the community, different solutions may offer themselves, whether that’s testing, vaccination, and we’re willing to look at all that.” 

Rotunda issues

Yesterday, the Master of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital Professor Fergal Malone said restrictions at the facility could be eased if more patients and their partners were vaccinated.

He said higher vaccine uptake among expectant mothers and their partners would make it possible to ease restrictions further.

Professor Malone said that, for several months, the Rotunda has been significantly exceeding the HSE guidelines of 30 minutes of visiting time per day, by allowing patients up to six hours of visiting each day, and up to nine hours at weekends. 

However, he added that in certain parts of the hospital, particularly the old main building, which dates back to 1757, there is no ventilation and there isn’t enough space to allow large numbers of people to sit together safely.

Professor Malone used the example of the ultrasound waiting room, which has only 12 seats.

“If I have eight or nine mothers sitting there and suddenly that’s 16 or 18 adults because they all have a partner with them in a small room that is not ventilated and not capable of being ventilated, that is a very serious risk,” he said.

And it’s the same with the emergency room waiting area, there’s only 10 seats there.

“If they’re all filled or most of them are filled by patients needing assessment, and I now double that by having their partner with them during that time, it’s just not safe.”

Speaking today, Paul Reid said he “fully supports the challenges that they have in the Rotunda, in particular”, noting the safety concerns regarding infrastructure. 

“I think they are being significantly compliant with the guidance we gave, but they are being very clear,” Reid said. 

Speaking yesterday about the infrastructure issues, Professor Malone added that every delivery room in the Rotunda is a single private room, meaning a woman’s partner can stay with them as soon as they are admitted to a room.

“Once a patient is admitted to the delivery room, whether she’s one centimetre dilated, or 10 centimetres dilated, of course, the patient’s partner will be with them for every minute of that journey,” he explained.

Malone added that the speed with which pregnant women can be moved into the single-occupancy rooms depends on how busy the hospital is at the time.

Eight rooms are currently available and this is shortly set to increase to 11.

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The HSE’s director of acute hospitals Liam Woods said today that “most maternity hospitals are reporting as compliant with all requirements including the extended ones”, but added “there are some exceptions”. 

He said of the 19 maternity hospitals, 14 will be “fully compliant” by this weekend. 

“There’s a couple where they’re making physical space or changes within the hospital to facilitate with patients,” Woods said. 

“There’s a couple of sites, the Rotunda being one, where the physical limitations are such that it’s very difficult to fully comply,” he said. 

With reporting by Céimin Burke and Press Association 

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