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Further restrictions in maternity hospitals as some decide to reverse decision allowing partners into 20-week scan

Some hospitals adapted their visiting restrictions for difficult situations such as pregnancy loss, stillbirth and unexpected complications.
Jan 8th 2021, 6:01 PM 19,495 10

FURTHER RESTRICTIONS HAVE been put in place in some of the country’s maternity hospitals since Level 5 lockdown kicked in. 

However, a number of maternity hospitals have said it has adapted their visiting restrictions for difficult situations such as pregnancy loss, stillbirth and unexpected complications.

A spokesperson for The Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital said: 

“Given the introduction of further level 5 restrictions, the increase in the number of women being admitted with Covid-19 and the significant increase in Covid-19 community transmissions over the last number of days we regrettably have had to put in place further restrictions.

“We do not make these decisions lightly and the measures in place will be monitored by the Covid-19 Executive Team on an ongoing basis and changes will be made as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The spokesperson said the hospital’s primary concern is the safety of mothers, babies and staff.

“We deliver over 8,000 babies each year and we will continue to offer excellent and safe care and in circumstances where a woman requires extra support please be assured that we will provide that.”

The announcement comes after the Rotunda Hospital announced that partners will no longer be allowed to attend the 20-22 week pregnancy scan.

National Maternity Hospital

However, the National Maternity Hospital said there are currently no visitor restrictions in place for partners of pregnant women attending for 20-22 week scans at the National Maternity Hospital.

However, given the current public health context, the need for restrictions is reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Any changes to current policy are published on the hospital’s social media channels, said a spokesperson.

Partners are allowed to attend the labour ward or theatre for a caesarean section, but are not permitted to attend an antenatal visit or an ultrasound scan.

Partners were not allowed to attend the 20-week anatomy scan for most of 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions before this position was reversed by many hospitals.

Cork, Waterford, Kerry, Tipperary 

Four maternity hospitals in the South/South West Hospital Group – Cork University Maternity Hospital, and maternity units in University Hospital Waterford, University Hospital Kerry and South Tipperary General Hospital – will also impose new restrictions from Monday.

Due to the surge in the virus, from Monday, partners will not be able to attend the routine 20-22 week anatomy scan at the four maternity hospitals. 

The hospital group said it is “very mindful of the distress these restrictions may cause and in line with national guidance, we will review these measures on a weekly basis”.

“The South/South West Hospital Group fully understands how challenging visiting restrictions at our four Maternity Hospitals have been. However, in light of the move to Level 5 restrictions and the increased rate of transmission within the community there is a need to minimise footfall to our maternity units, to limit the risk of the virus spreading. 

“The safety of women, their babies and maternity staff is central to the provision of our maternity services which must be continuously available when required by our patients,” they said.

However, the hospitals wished to make clear that the birthing partner will still be able to attend:

  • as soon as the mother is in established labour;
  • for the birth itself;
  • for delivery by caesarean section;
  • can stay for some time in the immediate post birth period either in the labour Ward or the theatre recovery except in South Tipperary General Hospital where the partner can return to the ward with the patient for one hour as there is no theatre recovery room available at the hospital;
  • When a baby is in the Neonatal Unit or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit one parent (at a time) can visit their baby – of note the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit visiting times are unrestricted.

The hospital group said it is sensitive to specific situations regarding pregnancy loss, stillbirth and unexpected complications and we have adapted their visiting restrictions in these situations.

All patients who receive a pregnancy loss diagnosis are to be offered the opportunity for her partner to attend at that time. Her partner can attend all subsequent visits, said the spokesperson. 

Limerick

Visiting, including partner visits, at University Maternity Hospital Limerick has been significantly restricted since March 2020 in order to protect women and infants, as well as staff said a spokesperson for the hospital.

Sine 15 December, the hospital reclassified partners as ‘essential companions’ of pregnant women for the foetal anomaly or anatomy scan.

However, due to the current exponential surge in Covd-19, the hospital has said it has been left with no option but to reverse this decision.

“Until further notice, visiting at UMHL will be restricted to the partners/support persons of mothers in the labour ward/theatre only, with a strict limit of one visitor per patient.

“Birthing partners are permitted to be present on the labour ward for all vaginal births and are permitted to remain with mother and baby for approximately one to one-and-a-half hours after delivery. Unfortunately they are requested to leave when the patient is being transferred to the postnatal ward,” they said.

Partners are also permitted during labour in the case of elective C-sections and in the case of an emergency C-section under spinal anaesthetic, where partners are permitted in theatre for the birth of the infant.

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If the C-section is being performed under general anaesthetic, the partner is not permitted into theatre, as has always been the practice in the hospital.

The hospital said it  is “acutely aware and very sensitive” to specific situations regarding pregnancy loss, stillbirth and unexpected complications and it has adapted their visiting restrictions in these situations to ensure that women have the on-site support of their partner.

“We very much regret having to reverse our decision allowing partners to attend for the anomaly scan. We are very aware of the distress and inconvenience these restrictions have caused for our service users and their loved ones.

“However, the decision is essential in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all patients and staff from the threat of Covid-19 at a time of exponential increase in community transmission of the disease.

“Management at UMHL will keep the need for restrictions under review at all times, and continue to work to balance the need for health protection with compassion for people’s needs and preferences,” the hospital statement said.

Appeals from pregnant women

Earlier this week, TheJournal.ie reported that nearly 200 new or expecting parents wrote to the Minister of Health between August and October appealing for restrictions at maternity hospitals to be lifted.

Hundreds more are understood to have been sent up to the end of lat year.

Emotional and angry emails seen by TheJournal.ie detail how women were left terrified of going through labour alone, without their partners. 

Others spoke about the harrowing stories of being told that they had had a miscarriage when they were sitting alone in a maternity hospital, with their partners left in car parks.

In one email, one expectant mother detailed “one of the most upsetting moments of my life”.

She had a bleed at eight weeks into pregnancy and had to go to the hospital alone.

She explained how women were in hospital waiting rooms without their partners, being told the most upsetting news.

The HSE said each maternity unit will be risk assessing the current arrangements and will advise on any necessary change.

“We appreciate the patience shown by families as we work through these difficult months, providing high quality maternity and infant care and keeping our patients and services safe from Covid-19,” the HSE added.

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Christina Finn

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