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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

Taoiseach commits to examining hospital rules keeping partners of pregnant women out of maternity wards

Partners cannot attend scans and can only join pregnant women for the late stages of labour.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that there should be a nationwide policy on the advice for allowing partners into maternity hospitals during pregnancy and labour. 

The issue was raised by Holly Cairns TD and Mattie McGrath TD, with the former saying that some women are “going into labour alone” and that different hospitals have different policies. 

Currently, pregnant women have to attend their scans alone at many hospitals and can only have their partners with them in the late stages of labour and during the birth.

Visiting by partners is allowed in some hospitals for short periods of time in the days after the birth, but others are not allowing any visits

Social Democrats deputy Cairns said that there needs to be clarity about how these decisions are made. 

“After an exchange with the Minister of State and the HSE management for the Cork-Kerry region, I’m even more unsure about how the decisions are being made,” she told the Dáil.

The minister said it’s based on an individual hospital, the HSE said it’s based on the region they’re in. So I’m wondering which is it?  The Programme for Government commits to excellence in maternal healthcare, but at present women in some areas are going to labour alone. It’s a geographical lottery and we’ve no idea why. 

McGrath said that pregnancy is “supposed to be a joyous occasion” but that at present “the partners or the husbands are not allowed in the vast majority of cases”.  

“We’ve heard of some harrowing cases where unfortunately issues occur with pregnancy, down to a stillbirth and the loss of a baby. It’s traumatic, hugely traumatic for the mothers concerned, and to be on their own, not a partner, or mother or sister or anybody being with them,” he said. 

In response, the Taoiseach said there needed to be a common approach across all Irish hospitals.  

“First of all, I fully empathise with what the deputies are saying. Obviously public health advice has been the key influencer of this situation, along with risk management in specific hospitals and locations. But I do take the point that public health advice in these areas should be nationwide,” he said. 

The Taoiseach added he would engage with the chief medical officer and the HSE on the matter: 

I would instinctively think it should be nationwide but it may be in different hospitals you have different settings and you have different risks. Some maternity centres may have different practices and so on, but I will engage with the chief medical officer on this. And with the Health Service Executive on this.

“It’s very difficult for people, it’s very traumatic,” the Taoiseach added. 

Last week, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said he recognised the importance of those moments for parents but in order to facilitate a lifting of restrictions, the spread of the virus has to be controlled.

“NPHET doesn’t have a formal position on every element and we don’t have a formal position in relation to that. I think though pragmatism needs to play a part in decision making and guidance around that,” he said.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

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