A LEADING trade union representing midwives has warned that Covid restrictions in labour wards must continue to keep mothers and babies safe.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) issued a plea to those calling for a blanket reopening of services to recognise the infection risks for pregnant women, new-borns and other hospital users.
In Northern Ireland, a woman can only be accompanied by a partner in active labour, and for an hour after birth.
Stringent measures around scans were eased on June 30, allowing partners to attend.
There have been calls for health minister Robin Swann to intervene but officials say that this is unlikely to happen in the near future given the surge in hospital admissions and risk of transmission as well as the impact of the pandemic on staffing levels.
The RCM said it was aware maternity units across the NHS were facing mounting pressure to relax their rules but that it difficult given that many hospital waiting areas were shared with other services, including oncology, making social distancing “impossible”.
Birte Harlev-Lam, the RCM’s executive director for professional leadership, said they “absolutely understood” the “frustration and, in some cases, distress” some expectant mothers and their families are feeling.
“This is not the experience of pregnancy they had anticipated – and it’s not the experience midwives want for them either. Midwives come into the profession to provide the best woman-centred, family-centred care, and this pandemic has changed the way we are able to do that,” she said.
“So that we keep everyone, every woman, every baby and every member of staff, as safe as possible, services are having to reduce the number of people coming into maternity departments. We’re seeing community infection rates rising everywhere. The last thing we want is for hospital infection rates to rise too, putting vulnerable people – and the staff who care for them – at risk.”
The trade union also expressed concern about online ‘fake news’ and misinformation that may stop pregnant women from accessing the care they need or raise their anxiety levels unnecessarily.
“Maternity services remain open for pregnant women, not only for appointments and scans, but also if they have any concerns about their pregnancy or their baby’s movements,” the RCM chief added.
“Talk to your midwife. You are not alone, your midwife is on this journey with you. They will be able to talk you through what to expect, from whether some appointments will be done online to when’s the right time to come to hospital when you’re in labour. Each woman is different, so make sure you get the right advice, the right information for you and your baby.”