Calling for a formal review of the current restrictions in place on maternity wards across the UK
Dear Secretary of State,
Following on from the launch of the #butnotmaternity campaign and a recent letter written to you from the Doula's at The BirthBliss Academy, I am reaching out to you to add my voice to this campaign and raise with you grave concerns I have regarding the support structures currently in place to guide women through every phase of their pregnancy.
As a registered midwife with nearly two decades experience of working within the NHS and as Co-founder of My Expert Midwife, I feel it is my duty to voice my concerns around the significant impact current maternity ward restrictions are having on women up and down the country.
As everyone in the healthcare community appreciates, your Ministerial brief has been one of the most challenging positions in Government over the last six months. I of course understand that the restrictions, which were put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, were imperative to the safety of patients, hospital staff and the general public in order to keep a virus that we knew so little about under control. However, I believe the time has now come to review the current restrictions and work together to find a new way to control the virus, whilst better supporting women as they go through pregnancy and childbirth.
Since restrictions were put in place, pregnant women have attended scan appointments alone; appointments where unexpected news is not uncommon and devastating news, although rare, has been given with no one by their side. Women have also laboured alone on antenatal wards until they are deemed to be far enough advanced in labour that their birth partners are finally permitted to attend. And for some, they gave birth alone. I have also seen startling evidence, on a public, NHS forum of a hospital refusing women the choice to use FaceTime or video conferencing during antenatal appointments, where they have no other means of support, citing ‘Medico-legal reasons’ when challenged on this blanket policy. Whilst this response may appear plausible, many other NHS hospitals were allowing the use of video conference facilities during this time.
Pregnancy and labour is no mean feat, and for many, it can be an incredibly traumatic experience and it is my belief that the effect of these restrictions on women’s physical and mental wellbeing has not been properly considered and I truly believe that with the knowledge we have and drawing on the significant expertise there is in the maternity sector, changes can be made.
As the Co-Founder of My Expert Midwife, both myself and the business as a whole is devoted relieving the physical symptoms and side effects commonly experienced in pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood. Recently, through our brand social media channels we have reached out to thousands of women to understand more about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth throughout the pandemic. In response we have been inundated with harrowing stories of women’s experiences of pregnancy and labour under these restrictions. The overarching themes were of being alone and frightened during labour, of partners sleeping in cars to be close by, of hearing devasting news alone, of being asked to make decisions without being able to discuss this with their partner first. The list goes on, and these are not one-off stories.
My concern is that amongst the noise of the pandemic, and need to get our economy back up and running, the government has lost sight of patient care, and the severe impact that these restrictions are having on patients on maternity wards.
Additionally, the shocking lack of clarity around what is and isn’t allowed has led to some NHS trusts lifting restrictions, allowing partners to attend scans, appointments and the duration of labour, and even safely lifting restrictions on visitors. Yet, other NHS trusts have kept the restrictions in place. This has been incredibly frustrating for those working in the hospitals, as well as the women and their birth partners who have been directly affected by these restrictions and at the mercy of a ‘postcode lottery’.
These issues are largely caused by the fundamental lack of communication from NHS hospitals and further compounded by the lack of consistency and equality applied to those restrictions, be it face to face or virtual, between other NHS hospitals throughout the country.
Therefore, we are calling on the Government to not just provide clarity on this issue but to allow pregnant women to nominate an individual, from the same household or bubble to accompany them through every stage of their pregnancy. We also call on the Government to urge that NHS England issue clear, unambiguous policy direction to NHS Hospital Trusts around the legality and use of video conferencing facilities, such as FaceTime.
As the Government urges citizens across England to get back to work, support local pubs and restaurants and reinvigorate the economy, it is not right that women are deprived their fundamental right to human support throughout one of the most challenging times in their lives.
For years women have fought for equal rights which are now being threatened. We have come so far, and we cannot revert back to a maternity care which fails to give women a voice, a choice or to see them at the centre of it.
Lesley Gilchrist – Co-Founder & CEO of My Expert Midwife
With over 300,000 signatures on the change.org #butnotmaternity petition it is now time for it to be formally debated in parliament.
We are in the process of setting up a parliamentary petition to get equality within maternity services for women across the UK. 100,000 signatures will ensure we get a voice in parliament.
Keep an eye on our social channels for when this is available for you to sign