TD describes waiting outside hospital while pregnant partner at appointment

Ó Laoghaire says Government bid to present hospital access issue as over is ‘a con’

A Sinn Féin TD who had to wait outside a maternity hospital while his pregnant partner attended an emergency appointment has called for all restrictions to be eased at the State’s 19 maternity units.

Cork South-Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire gave an emotional address to the Dáil as he described the experience of waiting outside during her emergency appointment.

He accused Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Government of “trying to present an absolutely minimal, tiny level of access as a major opening up.

“It’s a con, presenting the problem as if it’s solved,” he said of the access allowed to partners for the 20-week scan, during active labour and then soon after birth.

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“Women in labour need support,” Mr Ó Laoghaire said. “The WHO said so, the CMO said so. The idea that an arbitrary decision of how many centimetres dilated a woman is dictates when she needs support is ridiculous; it’s outrageous.”

Speaking during a debate on maternity services, the Cork South-Central TD said the level of access “is totally unacceptable, it’s a fraud.”

Mr Ó Laoghaire became emotional as he outlined what happened when his partner Emer had an emergency appointment with the early pregnancy unit.

He said he “waited outside by the car park looking up at the unit, waiting, as close as I could get.

‘Earth-shattering’

“I’m glad to say everything was okay but I tell you we were worried. And if it was not, Emer would have had to face that appointment alone.

“She would have got that bad news alone - earth-shattering, devastating news, alone. Now that’s still the same today.

“If a couple in that situation went to any hospital worried about the same thing today tomorrow next week the partner would stay outside the hospital door. That is an outrage.”

Mr Ó Laoghaire added that “partners are not visitors, they are essential support.”

He said society was opening up but maternity hospitals are still denying partners access. “You can go to a shopping centre, from Monday you can have a meal outdoors, you can go to a museum.

“Yet a partner cannot be present with a woman giving birth, through all of their labour.”

He said hospital staff are now vaccinated and pregnant women are increasingly being vaccinated.

“Partners and expectant mothers are almost always coming from the same household presenting the same Covid risk,” and there is no justification for not allowing them access.

He pointed to advice on the Ireland South hospital group website that “you can join during strong active labour and then soon after birth”. He said it was ridiculous and outrageous that how many centimetres a woman was dilated determined when she needed support.

“On the same website there is a Royal College of Midwives report which states that that having trusted birth partners there is known to make a significant difference to the safety and wellbeing of women.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary correspondent with The Irish Times