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'Nothing has changed': Continued calls for easing of maternity partner restrictions

Activists want partners to be permitted in maternity units for all stages of labour.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Raths

CALLS CONTINUE FOR partner restrictions at maternity units across the country to be loosened, and for all units to follow HSE guidance.

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

This is the case in many maternity units, however some units have stricter restrictions and activists want partners to be allowed in the room during all stages of labour.

Krysia Lynch, chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services – Ireland (AIMS), said the organisation has heard from new parents in recent weeks about the partner restrictions in place. 

“We’ve asked people who have given birth in the past 2-3 weeks to contact us if they want to to tell us their experience,” Lynch told The Journal. 

“We received a couple of hundred responses, and the response is that nothing has changed.”

She said many women are not allowed to have their partners in the room until they are at least four centimetres dilated.

She said a lot of women have emphasised that “early labour is the hardest part for them” because “once they get into established labour, they were able to get into a birth suite and got gas and air and an epidural, whereas in early labour it’s just your own capacity to cope.” 

Last Friday, the government announced a number of reopening measures due to take effect over the coming weeks and months. 

Healthcare was not mentioned during this announcement and Lynch said people contacted her in “absolute disgust that maternity continues not to feature”.

“Many people rightly say that this is the next generation of Irish citizens being born and it’s as if the State doesn’t care,” she said, adding that pregnant women “feel they’ve been put at the bottom of the pile”. 

“Drinking and socialising was featured but their healthcare was not featured… We were hoping that the issue would have been sorted by now.”

In a recent guidance document, the HSE said a partner should “generally be facilitated in accompanying a woman throughout the process of labour and childbirth”. 

“This applies to women with spontaneous or induced labour,” the guidance said. 

A partner should also be permitted at the 20-week scan and “other antenatal appointments or attendances if there is reason to anticipate that the visit is likely to involve communication of particular emotional significance”. 

Parents should generally be allowed to visit an infant in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The guidance explained: “If restrictions on partner visiting, accompanying persons in labour, parents visiting NICU or attending the 20 week scan are considered essential this should be based on a documented risk assessment that is reviewed regularly.

“The risk assessment may consider infrastructure, staffing levels, the current Framework Level and the potential adverse impact of restrictions on patients, infants and their families.” 

The Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said last month that 14 of Ireland’s 19 maternity units were “fully compliant” with national policy.

He said the five non-compliant units “all have at least issues with daily visitation and all five are part of a general hospital, rather than being a standalone maternity unit”. 

Dáil discussion

The issue was raised in the Dáil on Wednesday as part of a private members motion on maternity services put forward by Independent TD Catherine Connolly.

The issue of partner restrictions was mentioned by several TDs, including Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion who said partners should not be “left standing outside in the car park when a woman’s whole world is falling apart” in instances where bad news is received.

“Some have referenced the 20-week anomaly scan as being significant, but I also think that some of the earlier scan appointments are important.” 

She said women can be informed of issues in earlier scans and it “must be ensured that these women can have someone with them” at the appointments. 

Sinn Féin TD Donnachadh Ó Laoghaire spoke about his own experience with partner restrictions last year.

“Just before last Christmas, my partner, Eimear, had an emergency appointment with the early pregnancy unit because she was bleeding,” the TD said. 

I waited outside in the car park, looking up at the window of the early pregnancy unit waiting room. It was as close as I could get. I am glad to say that everything was okay, but we were worried.

“If it had not been okay, Eimear would have had to face that appointment alone. She would have got that bad, devastating, earth-shattering news alone. The situation is still the same today.

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“Whatever about a year ago, hospital staff are now vaccinated. Increasingly, pregnant women are vaccinated and many partners will be vaccinated too before long,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell said she has been contacted by parents “who have been damaged as a result” of the maternity restrictions. 

“While golfers are back on the greens and we will be able to drink a pint outside from next week, pregnant women are once again forgotten,” Farrell said. 

“I am blue in the face trying to get an answer to these questions. In University Hospital Galway, partners are only allowed to visit between 7pm and 9pm and only for half an hour in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“This does not go far enough. Fathers are not visitors. They are parents who are as responsible for their child as the mothers and their support and presence during the first days of their child’s life are essential.”

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