New NHS England Guidance Says Pregnant People Should Be Allowed a Partner for All Maternal Care

Claudia Canavan
·4-min read
Photo credit: Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm - Getty Images

From Women's Health

  • Pregnant people in England should be allowed their birthing partner with them at all times, through all maternal care, per fresh NHS guidance

  • This includes appointments, labour and the postnatal period

  • Risk assessments must be carried out and changes made to make wards more COVID-secure, before this happens

  • Please note that this is guidance. Changes may not be actioned immediately, at your trust

  • It comes after months of campaigning to change the COVID restrictions, which saw many women receive devastating news or labour alone

Happy news for a Wednesday morning. After a tireless campaign over months, pregnant people in England should be allowed their birthing partner of choice with them for the entirety of their maternal care, per updated NHS guidance which has been sent to trusts in England.

This should include scans, appointments, the whole of labour and the postnatal window, provided that the partner in question is not showing any signs of COVID-19. Rapid testing should be in place, to ensure that the virus is not carried onto wards.

Depending on which NHS trust a person was with, some people have had to attend appointments – in some cases, hearing news of miscarriage or foetal abnormality, or going through labour – alone, as a result of measures designed to stem the spread of cornavirus.

This was partly because hospitals could draw up their own rules on maternal care during the pandemic. Now, standard guidance has been released.

While the previous rules meant that in some trusts partners were only allowed to be in attendance for 'active labour' (when the cervix is 4-5cm dilated), in practice, this meant some partners missing the birth entirely, as well as being asked to leave as soon as the baby had been delivered.

Naturally, this has proven incredibly traumatic for a lot of women, some of whom have shared their stories with Women's Health, as part of the #ButNotMaternity campaign.

The new guidance was published on Monday this week, as part of the 'Supporting pregnant women using maternity services during the coronavirus pandemic: Actions for NHS providers' document.

Are the rules changing right away?

This will depend on your trust. As part of the ask to 'urgently complete any further action needed so that partners can accompany women to all appointments and throughout birth', trust heads have been instructed to:

  • Conduct risk assessments in every part of their maternity service, to check where there might be increased risk of transmission due to partners being present

  • Reconfigure space to ensure that it is as COVID-secure as possible

  • Use rapid testing in a bid to keep the virus off wards

While this is labelled 'urgent,' there could be differences in how long each trust takes to complete these risk assessments and some hospitals may not be able to have partners at births in a COVID-secure way.

The guidance states: 'Pregnant women value the support from a partner, relative, friend or other person through pregnancy and childbirth as it facilitates emotional wellbeing and is a key component of safe and personalised maternity care.

'It is therefore our aim, further to a risk assessment, that a woman should have access to support from a person of her choosing at all stages of her maternity journey and that all trusts should facilitate this as quickly as possible.'

Speaking to the Guardian, Joeli Brearley, the chief executive of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed said: 'This is a big step forward, but we’re far from the finish line yet. Hospital staff need support and resources to ensure they can lift these restrictions safely. Ultimately what we all want are happy, healthy staff and patients, and we need to see a plan in place that shows exactly how we will achieve this.'

The Royal College of Midwives, however, has not endorsed the guidance. Chief Executive Gill Walton said: 'With more areas moving into tier-three restrictions, many will question the common sense of releasing this new guidance now.

'We support and trust local maternity and midwifery leaders to make decisions in the best interest of the women in their care.

'We trust them to work with health and safety representatives and to follow NHS England's own risk assessment process, which enables maternity services to make decisions about visiting and access for partners and families that are based on current, local information.'

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