Rachael Corser, the senior responsible officer for the Hertfordshire and West Essex Local Maternity and Neonatal System who is chief nurse at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, has today issued the following public statement about changes to maternity visiting restrictions.
We know that, for many families, pregnancy and childbirth is a wonderful experience. For some pregnant women and their partners it can also be a stressful and uncertain time – and we know that they feel strongly about the current visiting restrictions in place at our maternity departments.
East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust have been working in partnership to ensure a consistent approach to visiting which keeps women safe.
Our approach has been developed in collaboration with the Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP), which is made up of a group of women and their families who provide a voice for the women who use our maternity services.
The impact of COVID-19
Since 8 April 2020, visiting has been restricted – with one named birthing partner allowed to attend during active labour.
Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to allow essential visitors (such as carers) to attend appointments, scans and to visit women on antenatal or postnatal ward. This is to ensure these women can access their healthcare fairly.
Women have also been able to have someone accompanying them for support in certain circumstances – for example, if there is a bereavement or established mental health needs.
We have been continually reviewing our visiting restrictions in consultation with the MVP and in line with all of our risk assessments, national guidance, and recommendations – including the ‘Framework to assist NHS trusts to reintroduce access for partners, visitors and other supporters of pregnant women in English maternity services’ released on 8 September 2020.
Our biggest challenge is how we can accommodate partners or family members while keeping safe the women and babies in our care, as well as our teams who support them.
Social distancing must be maintained within waiting areas, consultation and treatment rooms, while numbers have to be limited on antenatal and postnatal wards to comply with restrictions within clinical areas.
We have listened to the concerns raised and will be making the following changes to visiting restrictions :
1. Labour and birth
During this pandemic we have consistently supported women in active labour to have their birthing partner present.
Currently women attend alone while it is determined whether they are in the active stage of labour and, if so, their chosen birthing partner is then invited to join them.
From today (Friday September 25), the women’s chosen birthing partner can attend from the start of the birthing process and all other assessments which are undertaken in an individual room on our consultant-led and midwifery-led units.
2. Scan appointments
We are committed from Monday 5 October – or sooner if possible – to ensuring a woman’s partner or chosen support person can attend the anomaly scan (offered between 18 and 21 weeks, and known as the 20-week scan).
If successful, we will look at the practicalities of extending this to all scans at our maternity department. Unfortunately it will not be possible for children to attend, and chosen supporters must comply with the protocols in place.
Our other services
We will continue to review the visiting restrictions in place for our other antenatal and postnatal services.
This includes looking at how we can create further space within wards and clinic areas to maintain social distancing for visiting and appointments.
Video calls so women can remain in contact with family and friends during their admission will continue.
Our maternity teams are acutely aware of the effect these restrictions may have on women and families, and are here to provide support every step of the way.
We will continue to support women and their families during this difficult time while we work together with the MVP to maintain a safe environment within our maternity services across Hertfordshire and West Essex.
All these restrictions will continue to be under review, and could be eased further or tightened again depending on the risks to the women in our care and our staff.
Update – FAQs
In response to your enquiries, we have answered a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) which you can read here.
Our maternity team has also set up an advice line which runs from 7am-9pm every day for families who are expecting at our Diamond Jubilee Maternity Unit based at Lister Hospital.
If you have read this statement and our FAQs above, but have further questions – then please give them a call on 07789 935620.