Pregnant women will be allowed to have someone with them during scans, labour and birth, as Covid guidelines from the NHS have been revised.
The new guidance, issued this week, means that expectant mothers can have one person beside them “at all stages” of pregnancy, including attending appointments, provided the support partner is not showing any symptoms of coronavirus.
Change in guidance
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Under previous guidance, it had been left to individual health trusts to draw up their own rules on whether a partner could be present or not. The strict rules meant many women have been left to give birth alone since the start of the pandemic.
Since the new guidance was published on Monday (14 Dec), trusts have been requested to review their current rules.
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.
“As part of the guidance, health bosses have been asked to undertake a risk assessment in each part of their maternity service with the aim of identifying if there is an “elevated risk of Covid-19 transmission if support people are present”.
Trusts have also been told to address issues highlighted in the risk assessment, such as making changes to the configuration of space, as well as other infection prevention and control measures, including training and personal protective equipment.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS understands how important it is for pregnant women to have someone by their side at this special time in their lives, which is why extra infection control measures have been put in place, hospitals are rearranging clinics to give more space, and testing for staff and patients recently made available by the government to ensure this can happen.”
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the NHS Trusts in England should exercise “common sense” when considering whether to allow a support partner to accompany expectant mothers at maternity services, particularly with more areas moving into Tier 3 restrictions.
The RCM, along with the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and the Society and College of Radiographers, said they were consulted on previous drafts of the guidance and gave feedback based on 10 principles.
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “This guidance should support Trusts to undertake any further risk assessments required to enable support partners to attend key appointments and scans, while keeping women and staff safe.
“We also hope the rollout of rapid testing will increase the time partners who test negative can spend with women and their babies on antenatal and postnatal wards, although we have concerns about the capacity and sensitivity of lateral flow testing to enable maternity services to reopen fully.
“With increasing prevalence of the virus in many areas and more than 60 per cent of the country under Tier 3 restrictions, decisions about visiting and access for partners and families will need to be based on local information and testing capacity, and clearly communicated to women and their families.
“We also call on the government to clarify legislation which suggests women attending for medical care who test positive for Covid-19, or who are in mandatory self-isolation, cannot be accompanied by a support person.”
Continue to follow existing rules
The NHS is advising that pregnant women continue to follow the existing rules that are in place for scans and maternity appointments while it works to implement the new changes.
Guidance for appointments can be found via the NHS website.
Chris Morley, Chief Nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explained: “We are pleased that we now have guidance that will enable partners to attend maternity appointments and scans in the near future, and are currently working through this to ensure that we can implement any changes that are needed in a COVID safe manner.
“While we do this we would ask that you please bear with us and continue to follow the existing rules that are in place for scans and maternity appointments. We will provide an update as soon as any changes are implemented.
"In the meantime, if you feel there is an exceptional circumstance that applies to your situation you can discuss this with your midwife.”