Covid-19 has exacerbated existing challenges for those who suffered baby loss
Covid-19 has exacerbated existing challenges and had had a negative impact on the experience of women, partners and their families at the worst possible time of their lives, writes Cherilyn Mackrory MP. | PA Images
Partners have been excluded from appointments and both mothers and partners have had visiting rights severely restricted, increasing the isolation experienced by bereaved women and their families.
In October, Parliament recognised Baby Loss Awareness Week for the fifth time. The debate I am holding on Thursday is very much a part of this important week.
It’s a week of recognition and reflection. An important week for those who have suffered baby loss. My husband and I have suffered this ourselves. In fact, my rapid journey to stand for Parliament started sometime after our tragic loss early last year.
The House has championed raising awareness of baby loss in recent years. I feel so humbled to now be part of this in my capacity as co-chair of the APPG on Baby Loss.
Our involvement helps to deliver an unmistakeable message outside of Parliament about the importance of this subject within Parliament, in the Department of Health and Social Care and within the National Health Service. Most importantly of all, it sends a message to bereaved families that lets them know that there are people in Parliament who truly understand how it feels.
In August, the APPG held a virtual meeting focused on the impact of Covid-19 on pregnancy and baby loss. We heard evidence from organisations who support women and partners who experience loss at any stage. The evidence was stark; Covid-19 has exacerbated existing challenges and had had a negative impact on the experience of women, partners and their families at the worst possible time of their lives.
After a loss, the isolation of lockdown has contributed to negative impacts on women and partners’ mental health
The APPG found a number of issues. Partners have been excluded from appointments and scans, often not even able to join the consultation by video or speakerphone. This has led to women receiving bad news or making decisions alone. In a neonatal setting, both mothers and partners have had visiting rights severely restricted. These factors all increase the sense of isolation experienced by bereaved women and their families.
Thanks to a successful campaign, led by my Hon Friend, the Member for Rutland & Melton, many Trusts reversed the decision to prevent partners being present at scans and births, however, there are still many who cannot or will not.
Secondly, women have reported restrictions in the way they can access health services relating to their pregnancy, often finding A&E is the only route available. Scans have been cancelled, and mothers with concerns about their baby’s movements have reported being sent away from hospital.
Some key staff, such as health visitors, have been redeployed during the pandemic, meaning women cannot access the services they need. After receiving bad news, information on options and choices has not been forthcoming. This is important for grief and recovery.
Finally, the APPG found lockdown has exacerbated risk factors for some types of baby loss; deprivation, domestic violence. After a loss, the isolation of lockdown has contributed to negative impacts on women and partners’ mental health, and their ability to access support from friends and family, psychological professionals, and community outreach services.
In response to this, the APPG called for NHS England to initiate a minimum acceptable standard for involving partners when pregnancy or baby loss is anticipated or occurs, whether in relation to attendance at scans or appointments, or parental access to neonatal units. It also asked for the swift reinstatement of the provision of choices for women facing pregnancy or baby loss in all Trusts, including treatment options and interventions.
There is much more work for the APPG to do. There are many questions to ask and solutions to find. I want to reassure those who have suffered baby loss during Covid-19 that Parliament, the Department of Health & Social Care and our APPG stand with you, as do the excellent bereavement support charities that we work closely with.
We all have the same objective, which is to reduce loss and to improve outcomes for babies and for their families.
Cherilyn Mackrory is the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth.