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.
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.
|15/11||Welsh Government||Letter sent re changes to visiting guidance on maternity services|
|22/09||Cwm Taf||Letter 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||Milton Keynes||Excluding second birth partners even when good reason for exception||Trust are keeping restriction in place due to not being able to accommodate 2m social distancing.|
|09/09||Mid-Cheshire||Reasonable adjustments including second birth partners||Some changes made for individual involved but at late stage|
|18/08||Jersey||Excluding birth partners during labour when PCR test declined||No response received|
|28/07||Sheffield||Second birth partners||Exception made for the individual concerned.|
|28/07||Milton Keynes||Reasonable adjustments including second birth partners||No response received|
|21/07||Hillingdon||Letter sent re visiting policy in their neonatal unit||No response received|
|20/07||Southern Trust, NI||Letter sent re visiting restrictions on partners||Risk assessment sent|
|06/07||Southport and Ormskirk||Reasonable adjustments and second birth partners||Response received – partners allowed to alternate.|
|01/07||Frimley Park||Letter sent re: restrictions on second birth partners||Risk assessment sent|
|25/02||Guernsey||Letter sent re exclusion of partners from caesarean birth and other restrictions||Response received – partners allowed into caesareans and scans from 22nd Feb|
|20/01||St Thomas||Letter sent regarding birth partners for COVID-positive women||Response received – a partner of choice now permitted to attend all births.|
|18/12||East Kent||Letter sent re partners st scans and filming of scans not being allowed|
|18/12||Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust||Partners not being allowed to attend scans||Unable to change at the moment due to staffing pressures but keeping under review|
|07/12||Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow||Partners not being allowed on postnatal ward|
|10/11||Society of Radiographers||Letter sent from a number of organisations re partners involvement in scans|
|06/11||Liverpool Womens||Letter sent re: visiting restrictions – impact of woman expecting twins|
|15/10||Sheffield Teaching Hospitals||Letter sent re: visiting restrictions|
|08/10||Northumbria||Letter sent re: negative COVID test result required before home birth and water birth|
|10/09||Oxford University Hospitals||Visiting restrictions in maternity services – induction.||Response received. Exception made.|
|04/09||Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells||Visiting restrictions in maternity services.||Agreement reached on measures to meet individual’s concerns|
|04/09||Gloucestershire||Visiting restrictions in maternity services||Individual offered consultation with Director of Midwifery|
|01/09||Leeds||Lack of exceptions to visiting restrictions for women with disabilities.||Apology given to individual concerned and reassurances will be supported in future|
|17/08||West Hertfordshire||Continued visiting restrictions and no exception made for first time mum of twins.||Response received – exception made.|
|27/07||Great Western||Continued 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||Royal Cornwall||Letter sent regarding continuing visitor restrictions||Response received justifying current restrictions.|
|17/06||Frimley Health||Letter sent re continued suspension of home birth.||Response received. Home birth being reinstated on 6th July.|
|09/06||Betsi Calwaladr||Availability of water for pain relief/birth||Response received – water birth only offered after a negative test result.|
|28/5||Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust||Policy 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||East Cheshire||Suspension of home birth service for at least six months without investigating alternative options||Response received. Reviewing every 6 weeks. Investigating running home birth services out of another local Trust. Rural location is an issue though.|
|12/05||NHS Lothian||Vaginal 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||Milton Keynes University Hospitals||Letter sent re: withdrawal of maternal request caesarean across LMS.||Decision not to offer maternal request caesarean has been reversed.|
|23/04||Cheshire and Merseyside Local Maternity System||Withdrawal 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||NHS England||Letter sent on transparency of decision making during coronavirus.||Response received. Meeting with NHSE in June to discuss further.|
|22/04||Society of Radiographers and British Medical Ultrasound Society||Guidance that recommends not allowing partners to video conference into scans. Birthrights sent joint letter with National Maternity Voices, Sands, the Twins Trust and ARC||Response received. Slightly revised guidance has been published since letter was sent. Raised with NHSE.|
|20/04||Brighton & Sussex||Separation of babies in neonatal unit from their parents if baby needs respiratory support even if parents don’t have COVID||Policy 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||Guernsey||Withdrawal of home birth services without full explanation||Still awaiting response|
|11/04||Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells||Birth partners required to be from same household meaning some women give birth alone||Trust is now looking an cases on an individual basis.|
|11/04||Greater Glasgow and Clyde||Withdrawal of home birth without investigating option of Independent Midwives||Response 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||Borders, Scotland||Ban 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||Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow||Letter sent out to women about cancellation of maternal request caesareans||Responded to say that letter should have said this was only a possibility, and that no caesareans have been cancelled .|
|07/03||Shrewsbury & Telford||Not offering contracts to Independent Midwives||Responded to say that this is now under consideration|
|30/03||Doncaster||Ban on birth partners in theatre||Ban reversed on 31st March|
|26/03||Northwick Park||Ban on birth partners||Northwick Park changed policy on 28th March|