Birthrights and the But Not Maternity Alliance partners have written to both Matthew Hancock and NHS England setting out the need for a roadmap to guide maternity services back to normal visiting arrangements, in line with the roadmap for relaxing restrictions in other areas of life. Birthrights and its #butnotmaternity partners are keen to avoid a return to the situation where partners can go to the shops, or the hairdressers or the pub but are excluded from maternity services.
The NHSE guidance issued in December sent a welcome message that partners are not visitors and should be welcomed back into all areas of maternity services as soon as possible. Data gathered by volunteers on behalf of the But Not Maternity campaign shows that although good progress has been made since last autumn, only 38% of Trusts are allowing women and birthing people to bring a supporter to a non-standard scan, and partners can only attend antenatal appointments in 25% of services (noting that some antenatal appointments take place in premises that are not controlled by the maternity service itself). There is still huge variation in visiting hours on inpatient wards ranging from no visiting at all on the postnatal ward to 24 hour visiting in some Trusts/Boards.
During a recent webinar, Maternity Voices Partnerships conveyed some clear messages about the current situation:
– There needs to be a unified policy across England. There is too much unwarranted variation across maternity services.
– More clarity is needed around the 2m social distancing requirement being an aspiration but not a necessity. Many units have implemented creative solutions to address the barriers to letting partners back in. But some units cannot have partners back into all areas of maternity services and maintain 2m at all times. As the guidance already recognises, testing and other protective measures mitigate this risk.
– Home testing of partners must be supported. It is not feasible for many Trusts to test both the person giving birth and their partner on site in terms of space and staffing. (We understand that this is being rolled out from the 12th April which is great to hear).
– Both staff and service users want to understand what evidence has been gathered about the risk to staff and other service users of bringing back partners/visitors into different areas of maternity services, and how much testing and vaccination reduces these risks.
The webinar noted that Scotland was ahead of other areas of the UK, but there were significant concerns about progress in Wales and Northern Ireland as well. The devolved Governments have generally issued more prescriptive guidance over partners involvement in maternity services during COVID. Only just under half (48%) of those present at the webinar said that their Trust (in England) had done a risk assessment and had a plan in place to ease visiting restrictions.