Thank you for contacting me about maternity care during the Covid-19 outbreak.
During this pandemic, pregnant women here in our area have had to deal with the often-daunting prospect of attending a scan or even giving birth unaccompanied. Partners – advocates for the woman and unborn child - feel at times they have needlessly been left out.
During this crisis, everyone recognises that the first priority has been maintaining core maternity services, and I commend midwifes and doctors for keeping maternity services going. Families also accept that in these exceptional times some sacrifices may be unavoidable. I have welcomed steps to enable partners to once again routinely be present for every stage of labour and the birth, as well as other maternity appointments. With coronavirus cases increasing across the country, it may be that some hospitals have chosen to be more restrictive in their visitor protocols. However, I strongly urge maternity teams to work with pregnant women to ensure that they have all the support that they need throughout their pregnancy, and to facilitate attendance from partners wherever possible.
I know constituents are concerned that simple steps to enable partners into more maternity appointments have not been taken. You may be interested to learn that an MP-colleague of mine, who is herself pregnant, has coordinated a campaign calling on local health leaders to implement guidelines to safely allow family members to be present at scans and during all of labour.
It is devastating to hear reports of mothers experiencing miscarriages or difficult early stage labour without birth partners, and I hope that hospitals listen to the Prime Minister who said that it is of “upmost importance” that every hospital allows partners to be present in what are “incredibly special moments in people's lives”.
While I understand that the Prime Minister's announcement on 31st October may have caused some concern for pregnant women and their partners, I am reassured by the announcement of a steady but massive expansion of quick turnaround tests, which can be used to help women to have their partners with them in labour wards. I look forward to seeing these tests help to ensure women can access the support they need, and will continue to closely monitor this matter.
I welcome that the Department of Health and Social Care has funded Sands, the stillbirth charity, to work with charities and royal colleges to produce a National Bereavement Care Pathway, which will reduce the variation in quality of maternity and bereavement services throughout the NHS. This covers a range of circumstances, including miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy terminations for medical reasons, and neonatal death. I understand that these new standards have been rolled out nationally since October 2018. Additionally NHS England has been guiding maternity services on the introduction of the Better Births recommendations, and is embarking on a national programme to seek feedback from families who lose a baby, in order to develop the most appropriate and modern bereavement services. I can only imagine the additional difficulty presented by the coronavirus pandemic for families experiencing such a devastating time.