Protecting human rights in childbirth

Coronavirus

Over the last few months, hundreds of people have contacted our advice line with serious concerns about their maternity care.

If you are pregnant and have questions or concerns about your care you can see answers to some of the most common questions on our Coronavirus FAQ. You can request advice about your rights in maternity care here.

If you are a maternity services leader or healthcare professional you can find out more about how to run a safe and rights respecting maternity service during a pandemic here.

Rights respecting care during the Covid pandemic

We have been working throughout the pandemic to track issues that women and maternity professionals are experiencing, and to raise these with Trusts and policy makers. There has been an exemplary response to the crisis by many NHS Trusts. They have rapidly adjusted in very difficult circumstances to provide women and birthing people with continued access to safe and supportive maternity care that respects their choices.

However there has been an inconsistent, disproportionate and inhumane response by some NHS Trusts, and we have seen a number of Trusts making unlawful blanket decisions without taking into account women’s individual circumstances. We have been particularly concerned about the following issues through the pandemic:

  • Suspension of maternity services, including home birth and midwifery-led birth centres
  • Permitting birth partners to support women during labour, but also exceptions to wider hospital visitor restrictions at other times on a case by case basis.
  • Restricted access to pain relief such as water
  • Restricted access to maternal request caesareans
  • Loss of continuity of care and the wider impact of COVID on women from BAME communities and other marginalised groups

Birthrights is working hard to address these issues and to champion respectful care during pregnancy and birth by protecting human rights during the pandemic. You can read more about our call for all women to receive safe, respectful and compassionate care during Coronavirus in our March 2020 statement and in our responses to relevant Parliamentary inquiries below.

Correspondence with Trusts

Birthrights works to empower individuals contacting our advice line, Maternity Voices Partnerships and others with an interest, with the information they need to assess and challenge local decisions where appropriate. However where necessary we also write to Trusts and Local Maternity Systems and other organisations directly. The table below lists our correspondence with Trusts and others.

If you are a healthcare professional, find out more about running a safe and effective maternity service in the pandemic. Specialist guidance for midwives on supporting women facing multiple disadvantage during the pandemic is available from Birth Companions.

DateTrust/LMS/OrgIssueResponse
27/07Great WesternContinued suspension of home birth service.Trust has confirmed that individual due to give birth shortly will be supported to have a home birth. Awaiting further news on reinstatement of service.
08/07Royal CornwallLetter sent regarding continuing visitor restrictionsResponse awaited.
17/06Frimley HealthLetter sent re continued suspension of home birth.Response received. Home birth being reinstated on 6th July.
09/06Betsi CalwaladrAvailability of water for pain relief/birthResponse received – water birth only offered after a negative test result.
28/5Manchester University NHS Foundation TrustPolicy of birth partners needing to be from the same household meaning some women have to give birth without a birth companion.Response received. Doulas from Jewish community are being given additional training and PPE but are allowed to support women in hospital.
28/5East CheshireSuspension of home birth service for at least six months without investigating alternative optionsResponse received. Reviewing every 6 weeks. Investigating running home birth services out of another local Trust. Rural location is an issue though.
12/05NHS LothianVaginal examinations being used to assess whether woman can be admitted and can be joined by partner – concern over women feeling coerced to accept VE. Home birth service still not been reinstated.Had online meeting on 2nd July. Home birth service (subject to women signing agreement) now reinstated. Ongoing dialogue re other concerns.
12/05Milton Keynes University HospitalsLetter sent re: withdrawal of maternal request caesarean across LMS.Decision not to offer maternal request caesarean has been reversed.
23/04Cheshire and Merseyside Local Maternity SystemWithdrawal of home birth services. Letter here.Response awaited although we understand LMS wide ban has been reversed and some Trusts have reinstated home birth services.
23/04NHS EnglandLetter sent on transparency of decision making during coronavirus.Response received. Meeting with NHSE in June to discuss further.
22/04Society of Radiographers and British Medical Ultrasound SocietyGuidance that recommends not allowing partners to video conference into scans. Birthrights sent joint letter with National Maternity Voices, Sands, the Twins Trust and ARCResponse received. Slightly revised guidance has been published since letter was sent. Raised with NHSE.
20/04Brighton & SussexSeparation of babies in neonatal unit from their parents if baby needs respiratory support even if parents don’t have COVIDPolicy on separation reviewed – only babies with respiratory symptoms that are unexplained and could be COVID are isolated. Bliss sharing best practice with Trusts.
14/04GuernseyWithdrawal of home birth services without full explanationStill awaiting response
11/04Maidstone and Tunbridge WellsBirth partners required to be from same household meaning some women give birth aloneTrust is now looking an cases on an individual basis.
11/04Greater Glasgow and ClydeWithdrawal of home birth without investigating option of Independent MidwivesResponse to say home birth service will be reinstated as soon as staffing allows, and that IM option has now been looked at. Birthrights will continue to monitor
10/04Borders, ScotlandBan on birth partners in theatre (due to higher risk given set up of hospital)Partners are now being allowed in for all caesareans.
09/04Princess Alexandra Hospital, HarlowLetter sent out to women about cancellation of maternal request caesareansResponded to say that letter should have said this was only a possibility, and that no caesareans have been cancelled .
07/03Shrewsbury & TelfordNot offering contracts to Independent MidwivesResponded to say that this is now under consideration
30/03DoncasterBan on birth partners in theatreBan reversed on 31st March
26/03Northwick ParkBan on birth partnersNorthwick Park changed policy on 28th March

Parliamentary inquiries

We have submitted evidence to Parliamentary inquiries examining the Coronavirus response:

Human Rights (Joint Committee) – The Government’s Response to COVID-19: human rights implications