MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow has written to Caroline Walker, the Chief Executive North West Anglia Foundation of NHS Trust that manages Peterborough City Hospital, urging them to revise their policies of allowing partners or family members to accompany pregnant women during their stages of labour, including the antenatal scans.
In his letter, he has highlighted some of the challenges new mums faced across different regions while going through the birthing experience alone, including facing miscarriages.
One woman who was told just two days before her C-section that family would not be allowed to accompany her described her experience and said she felt ‘devastated, helpless and shocked’.
Mr Bristow included a report from ‘Make Birth Better’, an organisation that supports pregnant women, which shed light on the traumatic experiences faced by many such women, calling it ‘nerve-wrecking.
Mr Bristow said: “This must change. The Government has given NHS Trusts guidance that states women should be permitted to have a partner with them for åll scans and at all stages of labour. Yet, as MPs we continue to be contacted by constituents devastated about the rules being put in place by hospitals refusing partners attendance.
“Mary from Sutton Coldfield shared her experience: 'I found out alone at my 12-week scan that my baby had died. l then had to go through surgery alone as they wouldn't let my husband into the ward. I wish that no one has to go through this alone in future, it's awful'.
“Or Athena's experience in Windsor, who had to endure more than four weeks of hospital visits and tests "alone" as she experienced a missed miscarriage. These stories, and many more, were shared with Pregnant Then Screwed, a pregnancy advocacy organisation who works with Make Birth Better, and is campaigning to ensure women and their partners can support one another through pregnancy and birth.
“We are failing women if restrictive support policies in pregnancy are allowed to continue one moment longer than they need to. That is why the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has issued formal guidance that NHS Trusts should allow women to have a supportive person with them for all scans and during every stage of labour. Unfortunately, some NHS Trusts have been dragging their feet.
“National lockdown has been lifted for a few months now, and as such we write today to urge all NHS Trusts to immediately allow partners or one close family member to attend all scans, (even if they may only enter the building for the scan itself) and to attend all stages of labour. This should also be swiftly communicated to expectant mothers and their support networks.
“We have raised just three examples of families in the United Kingdom who have endured unimaginable anguish in their pregnancy, but there are thousands more stories that have not been told.
“There are stories of women who have been traumatised by a lack of support at one of the most challenging times of their lives, and who have experienced real tragedy with no one by their side. And of course, women who have not been able to share their radiant joy as they watch their baby grow and give birth. Pregnancy, with all its ups and downs, is not something that should be experienced alone. Women deserve better than that. Partners deserve better than that.
“If mental health, and the health of pregnant women, is a top priority for NHS Trusts, they must all follow Government guidance and immediately loosen restrictions on who can join pregnant women in hospitals for scans and at all stages of labour. Our pregnant women are owed nothing less.”
The NHS Trust has responded to this request and said they were one of the first trusts across the country to allow partners to attend antenatal appointments, adding that they are continuing to review the restrictions in place for everyone's safety.
Jo Bennis, Chief Nurse for North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, said: “At the beginning of the pandemic the Trust implemented visiting restrictions in line with national guidance to protect our patients, visitors and staff from the spread of Covid19.
“We continuously reviewed this decision as the pandemic progressed and when we considered it safe to do so, were one of the first Trust’s to allow partners to attend antenatal scans and introduce structured visiting times.
“Currently, partners can attend routine antenatal scans in our Maternity Departments.
“Birthing partners are also allowed to join women on our labour wards, once active labour has begun and can stay for up to four hours or until mum and baby have moved to the postnatal ward. If mum and baby are required to stay in hospital for monitoring, one visitor will be allowed during a designated time slot – either 9am-1pm or 4pm-7pm.
“We understand the emotional distress that the restrictions caused women and their families but it was and remains imperative that we keep the safety of our patients and staff as our main priority. Despite it not being the same as having a loved one with them our staff offer all women emotional support during their labour and if they are required to spend time on the postnatal ward. We will continue to review restrictions and make adjustments where possible.”