The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has welcomed guidance from NHS England containing key actions for NHS trusts to enable pregnant women to have a partner, family or friends with them at all stages of their maternity care, while ensuring everyone is as safe as possible.
The newly revised guidance recommends that maternity services undertake a risk assessment in each part of their maternity service, to identify precisely whether there is an elevated risk of Covid-19 transmission if partners are present. In addition, it recommends reconfiguring the space used to provide maternity care.
The guidance also recommends lateral flow testing for women and their partners to help alleviate infection risks, ahead of scan appointments, fetal medicine appointments, and at birth.
Gill Walton, RCM’s Chief Executive said: “Midwives really want women to have that all important support of a partner, friend or relative during their pregnancy journey particularly at scan appointments, during birth and labour.
“Unfortunately, it has been necessary over the past year to place some restrictions on this to help stop the spread of the virus.
“At the time, maternity services did not make these decisions lightly, but now as we move towards the easing of restrictions, with more people vaccinated, maternity services are beginning to slowly return to normal.”
The RCM has lobbied for clearer guidance for maternity services around visiting and support, and say that this guidance strikes the correct balance of enabling women to have the support they need, while ensuring the safety of midwives and maternity staff is not compromised by the risk of infection from Covid-19.
Throughout the pandemic the RCM has supported maternity services and heads of midwifery to navigate the restrictions on partners, but unfortunately many older buildings with poorly designed space meant maternity services had little choice but to restrict visits due to lack of space.
Just last week the RCM wrote to Health Minister Nadine Dorries calling for upgrades to England’s NHS maternity service buildings to improve care for women and conditions for staff.
Ms Walton concluded: “Something as simple as a well-designed building could have made a huge difference to the experiences of women and their families using maternity services during the pandemic.
“As the pandemic also showed, it was often the difference between a woman having a partner or friend with her at appointments and being alone. We have had a significant injection of money into England’s maternity services to increase staffing levels and support better training.
“We now need a similar commitment to improve the buildings these services are in. Many of the buildings used are old and in need of repair. They are simply not fit for purpose. We must learn the lessons of the past year and ensure maternity services have the right building and conditions in which to deliver the safest and best possible care for women, their families and for staff.”