Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152


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, birthing people 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 and birthing people’s individual 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 and birthing people 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 and birthing people 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 and birthing people to receive safe, respectful and compassionate care during Coronavirus in our March 2020 statement and in our responses to relevant Parliamentary inquiries.

Programmes Director Maria Booker spoke to the International Maternity Experience 2020 conference about the rights issues we have seen through the pandemic and our tool for maternity leaders on how to run a safe and rights respecting maternity service.

Maria Booker – Women’s Rights and Choice – IME 2020 from Narrowcast Media Group on Vimeo.

We also spoke to openJustice as part of their series The Unlawful State: Stories from a Pandemic

This series by openJustice lifts up the voices of those whose lives are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis and find out what civil society are doing about it. Click here for more.

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 (if you are affected by visitor restrictions see our template letter to Trusts). 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 and birthing people facing multiple disadvantage during the pandemic is available from Birth Companions.

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust
Letter regarding visiting limited to one hour on inpatient maternity wards
Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Letter regarding visiting limited to one hour on inpatient maternity wards
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Letter regarding visiting limited to one hour on inpatient maternity wards
15/11/21Welsh GovernmentLetter sent re changes to visiting guidance on maternity services 
22/09/21Cwm TafLetter sent re return of visiting restrictions. Gone back to no visiting on antenatal or postnatal wards, no partners at outpatient appts or non routine scans
14/09/21Milton KeynesExcluding second birth partners even when good reason for exceptionTrust are keeping restriction in place due to not being able to accommodate 2m social distancing.
09/09/21Mid-CheshireReasonable adjustments including second birth partnersSome changes made for individual involved but at late stage
18/08/21JerseyExcluding birth partners during labour when PCR test declinedNo response received
28/07/21SheffieldSecond birth partnersException made for the individual concerned.
28/07/21Milton KeynesReasonable adjustments including second birth partnersNo response received
21/07/21HillingdonLetter sent re visiting policy in their neonatal unitNo response received
20/07/21Southern Trust, NILetter sent re visiting restrictions on partnersRisk assessment sent
06/07/21Southport and OrmskirkReasonable adjustments and second birth partnersResponse received – partners allowed to alternate.
01/07/21Frimley ParkLetter sent re: restrictions on second birth partnersRisk assessment sent
25/02/21GuernseyLetter sent re exclusion of partners from caesarean birth and other restrictionsResponse received – partners allowed into caesareans and scans from 22nd Feb
20/01/21St ThomasLetter sent regarding birth partners for COVID-positive womenResponse received – a partner of choice now permitted to attend all births.
18/12/20East KentLetter sent re partners st scans and filming of scans not being allowed
18/12/20Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS TrustPartners not being allowed to attend scansUnable to change at the moment due to staffing pressures but keeping under review
07/12/20Princess Alexandra Hospital, HarlowPartners not being allowed on postnatal ward
10/11/20Society of RadiographersLetter sent from a number of organisations re partners involvement in scans
06/11/20Liverpool WomensLetter sent re: visiting restrictions – impact of woman expecting twins
15/10/20Sheffield Teaching HospitalsLetter sent re: visiting restrictions
08/10/20NorthumbriaLetter sent re: negative COVID test result required before home birth and water birth
10/09/20Oxford University HospitalsVisiting restrictions in maternity services – induction.Response received. Exception made.
04/09/20Maidstone and Tunbridge WellsVisiting restrictions in maternity services.Agreement reached on measures to meet individual’s concerns
04/09/20GloucestershireVisiting restrictions in maternity servicesIndividual offered consultation with Director of Midwifery
01/09/20LeedsLack of exceptions to visiting restrictions for women with disabilities.Apology given to individual concerned and reassurances will be supported in future
17/08/20West HertfordshireContinued visiting restrictions and no exception made for first time mum of twins.Response received – exception made.
27/07/20Great 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.
08/07/20Royal CornwallLetter sent regarding continuing visitor restrictionsResponse received justifying current restrictions.
17/06/20Frimley HealthLetter sent re continued suspension of home birth.Response received. Home birth being reinstated on 6th July.
09/06/20Betsi CalwaladrAvailability of water for pain relief/birthResponse received – water birth only offered after a negative test result.
28/5/20Manchester 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.
28/5/20East 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.
12/05/20NHS 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.
12/05/20Milton Keynes University HospitalsLetter sent re: withdrawal of maternal request caesarean across LMS.Decision not to offer maternal request caesarean has been reversed.
23/04/20Cheshire 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.
23/04/20NHS EnglandLetter sent on transparency of decision making during coronavirus.Response received. Meeting with NHSE in June to discuss further.
22/04/20Society 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.
20/04/20Brighton & 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.
14/04/20GuernseyWithdrawal of home birth services without full explanationStill awaiting response
11/04/20Maidstone 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.
11/04/20Greater 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
10/04/20Borders, ScotlandBan on birth partners in theatre (due to higher risk given set up of hospital)Partners are now being allowed in for all caesareans.
09/04/20Princess 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 .
07/03/20Shrewsbury & TelfordNot offering contracts to Independent MidwivesResponded to say that this is now under consideration
30/03/20DoncasterBan on birth partners in theatreBan reversed on 31st March
26/03/20Northwick ParkBan on birth partnersNorthwick Park changed policy on 28th March