Partners should be classified as ‘essential accompanying persons’ in maternity wards

Midwifery sections, mainly led by women, should ‘show leadership’ on access - Minister

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns appealed to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to consider reclassifying partners.  Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns appealed to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to consider reclassifying partners. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

The row over access for partners to maternity wards could be resolved if the HSE reclassified them as “essential accompanying persons” for the “entire maternity journey”, the Dáil has been told.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the health service in December classified partners as essential accompanying persons for the 20-week scan pregnant women undertake in the check for anomalies.

Since then all partners have been allowed to attend for these scans in each of the 19 maternity units.

She appealed to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to consider reclassifying partners “on a permanent basis for the entire maternity journey”.

Ms Cairns made the comments as Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill told the House that the women of the Oireachtas will bring the issue up in the Dáil and Seanad at “every opportunity until it is agreed” and visiting access returns to pre-pandemic levels.

She said “we will bring it up every day” until the issue is resolved and partners are allowed to attend with pregnant patients through pregnancy and right through labour.

Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte said “it is time for the 19 maternity hospitals to show leadership on this.

“We need the hospital midwifery sections, which are normally led by women, to stand up and take ownership of the matter by coming forward and bringing maternity services into line with how we are doing infection protection and prevention in all other parts of the health system. Maternity should not be left behind,” she said.

Restrictions in maternity care settings due to Covid-19 have been consistently raised in the Dáil and Seanad. Limited access for partners has been an issue in a number of maternity units despite the Chief Medical Officer saying there were no public health grounds to restrict access and Minister for Health stating that all maternity units would follow the same guidelines, Ms Cairns said.

A number of hospitals have consistently raised concerns that fewer than 50 per cent of partners are vaccinated against Covid-19.

Ms Cairns said the percentage of vaccinated partners should be considered, but added that “the goal posts have shifted every time I raised this issue. It has shifted from being a HSE issue, to a local hospital group issue, to waiting for vaccine roll-out, to cramped conditions in our older hospitals.

“ The Rotunda Hospital was insistent on its restrictions until the outrage at the filming of the television series. This was filmed at a time when partners were not allowed in. Once that pressure came, it miraculously eased restrictions.”

She suggested that “we could reclassify partners as essential accompanying persons for the entire maternity journey so that no matter how restrictions are looked at or revised, that remains the same.

“We are talking about giving rise to risk. We have had this conversation before but if a partner has brought the mother to the hospital in the car, they are arguably already a close contact.”

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth said 90 per cent of the population is now vaccinated and “it is pitiful that 18 or 19 months on, we are still having this discussion about women and basic healthcare in maternity services around the country”.

She acknowledged that “not every maternity service within a hospital is restrictive, draconian or dogmatic in terms of the restrictions imposed”, but she said there had been 96,000 births since the beginning of the pandemic, which did not include “the thousands of women who have suffered pregnancy loss”.

She said some hospitals are still imposing restrictions and there had to be a return to pre-pandemic access for women and their partners.