27th July 2021
Dear Deputy Smith,
Thank you for your correspondence on behalf of your constituent regarding Covid-19 related restrictions in maternity hospitals.
With regard to the presence of husbands or partners at maternity appointments, labour wards and delivery theatres, it is of course desirable that the impact of Covid-19 on the experience of women and their families in maternity care is kept to an absolute minimum. In that regard the National Women & Infants Health Programme has provided assurance that the midwifery and obstetric community are acutely aware of the important support provided by partners or companions and that they wish to facilitate this as far as possible.
Maternity services are a core, essential service and as such need to be able to provide 24/7 care to all women requiring it as the country continues to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it should be noted that in the context of the current public health emergency, each of our 19 maternity units/hospitals face challenges and these challenges may vary considerably between units and it is important to remember that any changes to how services operate, including restrictions, are put in place to minimise the risk of spread of Covid-19 in the community and to protect hospital staff and patients as much as possible.
Maternity services have performed very well in that regard and have continued to deliver quality care to mothers and babies in very challenging circumstances. At the same time, the advice remains that the potential for Covid-19 to spread in maternity services is very real, and there has to be very high priority given to protecting the health and safety of women and babies, as well as the staff who have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre issued updated guidance regarding attendance at maternity hospitals. The guidance is clear that partners should be facilitated for daily visits of a minimum of 30 minutes, at the 20-week anomaly scan, while a woman is in the labour ward, for parents visiting in NICU/NNCU and at any visit where there might be communication that is particularly significant. The HSE has advised that as of June 21st, all 19 maternity hospitals/units are now fully compliant with this guidance.
In addition, the HSE noted that there is a need to have clarity on what should happen in emergency or unplanned attendances at maternity services. In that regard the National Women and Infants Health Programme has advised that additional guidance was issued to the maternity hospitals on 23 June 2021. The additional guidance addresses unplanned attendances, including at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Units or emergency presentations in late pregnancy, as well as attendance at routine appointments for partners of women whose pregnancies are considered higher risk.
The HSE has advised that women and their partners are facilitated in maternity hospitals/units either on a planned basis as part of their care package (EPAU/High Risk) or at the point of presentation informed by the clinical assessment of the woman and that all maternity hospitals/units are now complying with the arrangements and facilitating visits in accordance with assessed clinical need.
I hope this information can be of assistance to you.
Stephen Donnelly T.D.
Minister for Health