Women protest outside maternity hospitals over Covid restrictions

Birthing partners must be reclassified as ‘essential’, says TD

 Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan  at the Coombe Women’s Hospital at a protest by the Association for the Improvement in the Maternoty Services. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women’s Hospital at a protest by the Association for the Improvement in the Maternoty Services. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin


A series of protests have taken place outside maternity hospitals across the State as coronavirus restrictions excluding partners from attending with expectant mothers continue.

The Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS) held a series of protests at Holles Street and the Coombe in Dublin, as well as hospitals in Donegal and Louth calling for leadership and joined-up thinking to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Despite a HSE circular calling on hospitals to facilitate partners to attend visits, in many instances restrictions are being kept in place at local level.

Dr Krysia Lynch, chair of AIMs said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly needed to take the lead on this problem. Risk assessments of all hospitals are also needed, she added.

“Everyone is just passing the buck and you have pregnant people, their partners and mums with new babies stuck in the middle.”

Separating women from their birthing partner only results in fear, anxiety and physical and mental trauma for the mother and baby, said Dr Lynch, adding that a “clear timeline” was needed on lifting the restrictions.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin reiterated his view that there is no need now for restrictions on husbands and partners visiting maternity hospitals.

Mr Martin said he had spoken to the HSE chief executive and would engage again with the HSE in terms of telling the national clinical director but also “clinical directors across each hospital to facilitate such access”.

The Taoiseach was responding to Labour leader Alan Kelly who asked “when will we have consistency across the board with all the maternity services allowing husbands and partners being allowed in at critical moments”.

Mr Kelly said “the husbands and partners of pregnant women can go to Penney’s and click and collect clothes for their children.

“They can buy equipment they can get their hair but they can’t attend maternity services.”

He said this was still happening despite the Taoiseach, the Chief medical officer and the chief executive of the HSE saying it was wrong.

“The chief medical officer said there was no good reason for maternity hospitals to restrict visits from partners,” Mr Kelly said as he asked “who’s in charge”.

The Tipperary TD said Co Cork woman Linda Kelly said it that leaving hospital after she gave birth was “like being released from prison”. Mr Kelly said the policy as “barbaric”

Mr Martin said he agreed with him “100 per cent there is no need now for these restrictions at all”

The Taoiseach said earlier that he would engage again with the HSE to tell “clinical directors across each hospital to facilitate such access”.

Women’s birthing partners must be reclassified as an “essential accompanying person” for their entire maternity journey and should not be treated as an “optional extra”, Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said.

Ongoing restrictions on partners at maternity hospitals are “misogynistic and cruel” and continue to inflict trauma on women who are forced to attend stressful appointments and go through the intensive labour process alone, Ms Cairns said .

“Calling these visitor restrictions is ridiculous, you’re not a visitor at the birth of your child,” Ms Cairns told The Irish Times.

Ms Cairns’ comments followed the chief medical officer Tony Holohan’s assertion on Monday that there was “no good reason in public health terms why those restrictions continue to be in place” and he said the HSE had taken measures to make this clear to individual hospitals.

Mr Donnelly said hospitals which depart from the HSE circular must inform the health board in writing, outlining their reasons for doing so. However, he said there would be no intervention by the Department of Health in cases where hospitals depart from the advice.

“Certainly the Department of Health would not be getting involved in local clinical decisions in terms of infection prevention and control,” he said.

“They are operational matter for the HSE. But as the HSE have said themselves, the expectation is that visitation occurs.

“If by exception a local unit deems it unsafe for a time limited period, they can then submit that. Obviously that can be reviewed by the HSE centrally.

“There would be an ongoing consideration there. But generally these things would happen by collaboration.”

Karen Sheridan, a primary school teacher from Dublin, recently shared her experience of giving birth to her daughter India during the pandemic on Instagram to “build awareness around some of the preventable trauma that’s happening to women”.

She had planned a home birth but had to be induced because her daughter was 13 days overdue. After labouring at home, she spent four hours alone in the hospital prenatal ward while speaking to her husband by phone who was parked outside.

“I felt completely lost and the midwives were run off their feet so you’re basically alone. I had researched so much into birth and labour and being left on your own at any stage doesn’t make sense.”

Her husband was invited into the labour ward for the birth of their daughter but three days later, when India was rushed to Neonatal Intensive care (NICU), he could only visit for one hour a day.

“I wanted to share my story so people would see this isn’t right. I’ve processed what I’ve gone through but some women have been deeply traumatised by this. And no parent should be restricted from seeing their baby in NICU.

“I really do strongly feel if it was men giving birth this wouldn’t be happening. It’s not prioritised because the people making these decisions aren’t experiencing labour and birth and how impactful it is not to have someone to support you. I really feel women are being left behind at their most vulnerable.”

Cristín Kehoe, a teacher and playwright living in Dublin, penned an open letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last week calling on thim to “convene with the HSE, maternity hospitals and regional hospitals across Ireland and make a decision to ease restrictions based on fact alone”.

Ms Kehoe, who gave birth to her son in April 2020 just weeks after the pandemic broke out, acknowledges that restrictions may have been necessary a year ago but that now “we’re in a totally different situation”. –Additional reporting PA