Letter to the Prime Minister – Birth Partners (Accessible)

Dear Prime Minister,

Ongoing restrictions on birth partners’ access to scans and births

Thank you for your response to my question on birth partners in the House on Monday.

I appreciate the work everyone in the NHS is doing to continue delivering services during a very challenging time, and the effort that is going in to ensuring birth partners attending maternity services can do so safely and in a way that minimises the risks of contracting/spreading Covid-19. However, I and many expectant mothers have deeply held concerns about the current arrangements.

You asked me to write to you with examples of instances where pregnant women are still not being permitted to have a birth partner present. I have listed some of the cases that have been raised with me below that relate to Newcastle Hospitals in particular:

1.One expectant mother told me she has had to attend multiple scans, due to complications in the pregnancy, without her husband. Understandably, this has proved extremely distressing.

2. Another constituent wrote to say her son in law was permitted to accompany her daughter only during the second stage of labour, having already missed all the scans. Like me, she struggles to understand the logic of allowing birth partners at one stage of labour but not from admission, when a woman can be in labour for hours and sometimes days before reaching the established labour stage.

3.One constituent, who is currently unable to go to the shops on her own due to experiencing anxiety, has been told she must attend hospital to be induced for labour alone. This is clearly causing severe stress during the later stage of her pregnancy.

4.A pregnant woman had a fall but did not go to hospital for a check-up as she did not want to attend without her husband. She says her husband feels very disconnected from their baby due to the restrictions, and she feels very lonely.

5. In a particularly harrowing case, a pregnant woman had a bleed at 40 weeks but was left without her partner until she was induced. The partner was then allowed to attend from when her waters broke but had to leave an hour after the baby was born. The child was born with complications meaning surgery was needed at 1 day old. Following surgery, the mother was alone in the hospital for 6 days and the father was not allowed to visit.

A public health researcher recently told the British Medical Journal that partners’ access to scans and birth has been “a postcode lottery” and while I welcome last month’s guidance on lifting restrictions, it is clear that this is again not being applied consistently. With a worrying rise in the number of still births since February, and as Covid cases rise and tighter restrictions imposed across much of the country, it is more important than ever that we do better and get this right.

I would therefore ask that you urgently intervene to establish what barriers remain in place, and provide whatever support is necessary to enable Hospital Trusts to accommodate birth partners from admission to hospital when in labour, as well as at ante natal appointments wherever possible, particularly for less routine attendances such as later anomaly and development scans.

Prime Minister, we cannot allow a generation of babies to be born to mothers who are not being given the care and support that they need and deserve, with all the immediate and long-term implications that may bring. I therefore urge you to act now to ensure that despite giving birth during this Covid-19 crisis, no more women are forced to endure a long and painful labour, devastating scan results, or even face the prospect of either, alone.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Catherine McKinnell MP