Taoiseach to talk to HSE again to ensure maternity units comply with guidelines

Donnelly ‘quite frustrated’ at lack of progress in allowing partners to attend appointments

A protest outside Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday by members of the  Association for the Improvement in the Maternity Services calling for the removal of  restrictions  on  partners of pregnant women attending scans and appointments. Photograph: Collins

A protest outside Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday by members of the Association for the Improvement in the Maternity Services calling for the removal of restrictions on partners of pregnant women attending scans and appointments. Photograph: Collins

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil he would talk to the HSE again to ensure maternity units comply with current national guidance to provide access for partners of expectant mothers to scans, birth and post-natal appointments.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that despite the Chief Medical Office, the chief executive of the HSE, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health advocating for change “these restrictions are a reality”.

Ms McDonald said “partners are not visitors and need to have access along with the pregnant woman for appointments, scans, for labour and for post-natal care”.

Sinn Féin Cork South-Central TD Donnchadh O Laoighaire said he was “one of those partners” and was very disappointed to hear he could not attend for the 34-week scan.

Ms McDonald called for the Taoiseach to “bring together the masters of hospitals and managers of hospitals with maternity units because the situation needs to be rectified now”.

Mr Martin reiterated his view that “there is no good reason in public health terms as to why these restrictions remain in place” given the success of the vaccine rollout and the suppression of the virus.

He said the updated guidelines from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre state it is “generally appropriate to facilitate attendance by a partner through active labour and childbirth, after 20 weeks scans and also daily visits in visiting for example neo-natal units”.

In the wake of the HSE chief executive writing to maternity units seeking confirmation that they were implementing the current guidelines, the Taoiseach said “I will talk again to the HSE to make sure that this is complied with”.

Lack of progress

Earlier Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed the units had been written to by the HSE in relation to access for partners of mothers.

Mr Donnelly said he was “quite frustrated” at the lack of progress in some areas about providing this access, and said the HSE was too.

If a hospital feels it is unable to provide access due to infection control issues relating to Covid-19, it will have make a case for this in writing to the HSE, he said.

The Minister said on Wednesday he was expecting to receive a report from the HSE on the issue later.

The issue of providing access for birth partners to maternity units has been the subject of controversy in recent months, with advocates for greater access this week mounting protests outside some hospitals.

Access was restricted late last year during the third wave of the pandemic, and have been eased only slightly since.

Some hospitals say their infrastructure makes it difficult to facilitate safe access for partners during before, during and after birth.

Mr Donnelly said he would be bringing detailed updated plans on the further rollout of vaccines to Cabinet next week, once detailed advice is received from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

This will include more accurate timing on the vaccination of each age group, he said.

Antigen testing

On antigen testing Mr Martin insisted in the Dáil that there was no “mixed messaging” or confusion around antigen testing but “a difference of opinion, different perspectives on efficacy”.

He was challenged by Labour leader Alan Kelly who said there was “complete confusion” around its use.

Mr Kelly said he used the test weekly after he returned home to Tipperary after the Dáil each week. He said it was good enough to be used for hauliers and the Minister for Higher and Further Education was depending on it being rolled out in the autumn for third level colleges.

The Taoiseach, chief medical officer and Minister for Health favour its use, but the chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Prof Philip Nolan, described it as “snake oil”. Mr Kelly said the “mixed messaging” has to stop.

Mr Martin said it is already being used by certain sectors including meat plants and the European Commission has promoted its use.

Mr Donnelly said he was a supporter of antigen testing but by itself it was not “a silver bullet”.

A negative test from antigen “doesn’t mean you’re negative” and should be ignored, he said.

The Minister was speaking in Tallaght after publishing the Sláintecare implementation strategy and action plan 2021-2023.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisin Shortall said it contained a number of positive commitments but failed to provide a detailed timeline or breakdown of the budget.

“Moving forward with Sláintecare is essential. Front-line workers in the health service performed heroically throughout the pandemic, but Covid has caused enormous damage,” she said.