Currently the right to be supported throughout labour and at scans is a postcode lottery – this must change
It is proven that partners during labour improve clinical outcomes, writes Alicia Kearns MP. | PA Images
Remaining NHS Trusts must urgently adopt government guidance to ensure expectant mothers have a partner or loved one present for major scans and all stages of labour.
Right now, women are labouring in hospitals across the country in pain, scared and alone – separated from their partner or supportive family member until they enter the later stages of labour. Women are also attending critical key pregnancy scans alone, sometimes to receive the very worst news
This is in direct contradiction to Government guidance that has been in place since June stating that expectant mothers should be prioritised for visitation and support to the same extent as those receiving end of life care.
That’s why I launched my campaign in early September to call for all NHS Trusts to immediately adopt government guidance and ensure expectant mothers have a partner or loved one present for major scans and all stages of labour.
I’m grateful to have had the support of almost 80 of my Conservative colleagues in writing to every single NHS Trust in the country to demand they do just that, as well as the backing of the Prime Minister and Health Secretary, alongside midwives and clinicians up and down the country.
Over the last couple of months, hundreds of men and women from all over England have reached out to me and bravely shared their stories. Women forced to undergo stillbirths all alone, women undergoing inductions and days of labour alone because they had not yet hit “active labour”, a father missing the birth of his baby or even sat in the car park while his wife endured surgery alone following the loss of their baby. A profoundly deaf woman forced to fight to be allowed a partner to support her while she was in labour, and a blind woman refused a partner for a scan.
I’ve also had clinicians up and down the country write to me with their frustration at not being listened to by NHS Trusts, and of much higher than normal levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-Natal Depression amongst mothers.
Being pregnant, going into labour and giving birth is not like the movies. It’s one of the most difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences of a woman’s life. This campaign is important not just because women deserve support, and because their partners don’t deserve to be locked outside, but because it is proven that partners during labour improve clinical outcomes – mother and baby are safer. A 2019 World Health Organisation study found that outcomes for women and babies were improved in the presence of continuous support.
To deny labouring women their supportive partner is to deny them an advocate, and to reduce clinical outcomes
When I had my first baby and was in early labour for 36 hours, it was my husband who noticed that the baby’s heart rate had plummeted causing us to be rushed into the operating theatre. It was my husband who intervened when clinicians couldn’t reach consensus amongst themselves, and it was my husband who advocated for me when I was unable to do so for myself. Under the current restrictions some NHS Trusts are putting in place, my husband would have missed the birth. To deny labouring women their supportive partner is to deny them an advocate, and to reduce clinical outcomes.
I am expecting my second child in January and my local Trust adopted the Government’s guidance immediately, and my husband has been able to attend our scans. That is why I launched this campaign. It is wrong that I have had my husband’s support at all my scans because I’m lucky that my NHS Trust adopted the new guidelines, whilst women giving birth 15 minutes in the other direction still face restrictions.
As matters currently stand, the right to be supported throughout labour and at scans is a postcode lottery. This must change.
I am deeply concerned that due to rising Covid-19 cases, NHS Trusts will claw back the rights this campaign has won for women and their partners. This would be wrong. If in tier three 15 people from different households can attend weddings, how can NHS Trusts prevent one person – from the same household or bubble – from supporting a pregnant woman during key scans or labour.
At the height of the national lockdown in Spring, a hospital in London refused to ban partners from all stages of labour and major scans. They did not have to shut-down at any point due to a Covid-19 outbreak. If they could do it successfully, then other NHS Trusts should learn from them.
I’m grateful to all those Parliamentarians who have contacted me to support the campaign and who have written to their Trusts to lobby for change. I’d also like to praise Pregnant Then Screwed and Birth Better who I approached when I became aware of this issue, and who have fought hard for pregnant women and their partners’ rights.
I’m relieved that less than a third NHS Trusts continue to enforce restrictions – down from over two thirds when I launched my campaign a month ago - and I will continue to work closely with NHS England to support all Trusts to ensure that we keep clinicians safe, but bring back humanity to the start of life across our country.
I call on the remaining NHS Trusts to update their guidance as a matter of urgency, and for all Trusts not to reimpose restrictions, and to put the clinical outcomes of expectant mothers and their babies at the heart of their policies.
Alicia Kearns is the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton.