Thousands of women are enduring the ‘unimaginable anguish’ of having to give birth alone due to draconian Covid-19 rules.
More than 60 MPs are now demanding NHS Trusts lift their ban on partners at the bedside during births, which has left many women ‘devastated’.
The Mail on Sunday today launches a campaign to stop the practice, which has also led to patients being forced to attend stressful hospital appointments without the support of loved ones.
The MPs, including former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, have written to NHS Trusts demanding they all immediately loosen restrictions.
Thousands of women are enduring the ‘unimaginable anguish’ of having to give birth alone due to draconian Covid-19 rules
In their letter, they accuse local health chiefs of ‘dragging their feet’ and failing to follow Government guidance which allows family members to be present at scans and during labour.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month urged NHS chiefs to allow partners to attend scans and birth.
The letter says: ‘We are failing women if restrictive support policies in pregnancy are allowed to continue one moment longer than they need to.
Since the national lockdown was lifted, vast numbers of pregnant women have continued to sit alone in hospital rooms, without their partner or a family member as they hear life-changing news.
‘Their partners have been locked out of scans and hospital rooms, anxiously separated from the people they love most in the world with no idea whether the outcome would be as they hoped, or as they desperately feared.’
The letter was organised by Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who is pregnant, and was driven by what she has seen in hospitals.
Her partner was present at a scan two months ago and she said it is ‘utterly heartbreaking’ that not all women are allowed the same. ‘I can’t imagine having to go through birth without my partner,’ she said, adding: ‘Trusts had the ability to change these rules when we came out of national lockdown, but didn’t.’
The letter was organised by Tory MP Alicia Kearns (pictured), who is pregnant, and was driven by what she has seen in hospitals
Campaigners blame overzealous bosses at Trusts, including those in Liverpool, Nottingham and London, of ignoring Government advice.
This newspaper understands that one woman last week gave birth to a stillborn baby at 41 weeks without her partner present.
A relative said: ‘She is traumatised, even more so as she was alone to hear this news and hold her dead baby.’ In another case, a woman found out alone at her 12-week scan that her baby had died. She then had to go through surgery alone as they wouldn’t let her husband into the ward.
Ruth Watson, whose husband has not been allowed to attend her upcoming 36-week scan after doctors suspected complications said: ‘I feel women are almost being treated as though we don’t matter.’
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Anaesthetists all say women should be allowed ‘one birth partner’ by their side during labour in most cases.
Last week, the Government published guidelines on how hospitals can allow partners to attend labour and key appointments such as scans. Maternity Minister Nadine Dorries said: ‘Partners have a vital role to provide emotional support.’
She added it has been ‘painful to hear stories of women facing difficult moments and conversations alone’.
But Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs two maternity units in London, states on its website: ‘Please do not bring anyone to your scan... you must attend your appointment alone.’
And while partners can stay for the labour and birth, unless the delivery happens to be during visiting hours of noon to 7pm, partners must leave soon afterwards.
Similar rules are in force at Nottingham University Hospitals, although partners may now attend routine 12- and 20- week scans.
Partners are also not allowed to stay on the antenatal ward for observation – during what can be a highly stressful time for the mother – and must leave ‘a couple of hours’ after the birth.
Liverpool Women’s Hospital operates a near-identical policy, and stresses: ‘There is currently no postnatal ward visiting.’
The RCM said: ‘Having a trusted birth partner present throughout labour is known to make a significant difference to the safety and well-being of women in childbirth. When coronavirus is heightening anxiety, that reassurance is more important than ever.’
The college accepted that hospitals could stop partners attending routine appointments, but said: ‘This should not apply to labour and the birth room.’
Professor Mandie Sunderland, chief nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals, said their guidance was under review, adding: ‘Our priority remains to keep mums and babies safe and our stringent visiting policy so far has done just that.’
Imperial College Healthcare Trust said: ‘We are currently reviewing the visiting restrictions. We understand how difficult the current restrictions are and will do all we can to make changes quickly while also ensuring everyone’s safety.’
Andrew Loughney at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said: ‘Following the recent change in national guidance, we are planning to lift restrictions.’‘It was the scariest five days of my life’: How one first-time mother endured three days of labour alone… then two more after having an emergency caesarean – in just one of many horror stories that shame NHS bosses Hannah Cockerill spent three days alone at Luton and Dunstable Hospital Her partner, Michael Trott, was allowed inside only minutes before caesarean It was two days before Mike, 32, was allowed to see Alfie or Hannah again
The birth of her first child should have been the happiest moment of Hannah Cockerill’s life.
But, instead, in the middle of the August heatwave, she spent three days alone having her labour induced at Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
There was no one to comfort her or hold her hand as the drugs kicked in and the pain took over. Or to reassure her when a monitor revealed baby Alfie’s heart rate had plummeted dangerously low.
Her partner, sales manager Michael Trott, was allowed inside only minutes before she was rushed into theatre for an emergency caesarean section – and made to leave 45 minutes after their son, was born.
It was two days before Mike, 32, was allowed to see Alfie or Hannah again.
The birth of her first child should have been the happiest moment of Hannah Cockerill’s life. But, instead, in the middle of the August heatwave, she spent three days alone having her labour induced at Luton and Dunstable Hospital
As IT manager Hannah, 31, explains: ‘It was the scariest time in my life. Five days of hell. I was left vulnerable, with a newborn, after major surgery, on my own on a dark ward.
And Mike will never get that time back with our son. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen to new parents. To be treated like this is just cruel.’
Hannah’s traumatic experience is, sadly, far from isolated. Since the start of the pandemic in March, around 300,000 women have given birth in England.
Many have been forced to endure the distress of labouring alone as NHS Trusts make their own rules, continuing to exclude partners, friends, husbands and families from maternity wards across the country.
Fathers have missed crucial scans, hospital appointments and even, in some cases, children being born. A letter from MPs to trust bosses reveals just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the lasting impact these decisions by local health chiefs have on women.
ANXIETY: Ruth Watson (pictured) says women are treated ‘like we don’t matter’
It chronicles several harrowing stories of those who have been left unsupported during their most vulnerable moments.
One of them, a woman known only as Mary, from Sutton Coldfield, said: ‘I found out alone at my 12- week scan that my baby had died… I then had to go through surgery alone as they wouldn’t let my husband into the ward. I wish that noone has to go through this alone in future as it’s awful.’
Athena, from Windsor, told how she had endured more than four weeks of traumatic hospital visits and tests alone after her baby died in the womb.
And another described the experience of being told, two days before her caesarean section, that she would not be allowed any family support in the room with her. ‘Devastated. Frightened. Powerless. Helpless. Shocked,’ she said.
The stories were shared with a pregnancy advocacy organisation, Pregnant Then Screwed, which works with campaign group Make Birth Better to try to ensure women and their partners can support one another through pregnancy and birth. After all, the science on this is clear.
‘IT WAS AWFUL’: Beth Shafiq (pictured with baby Kai) said she cried every day
The respected Cochrane Collaboration, which analyses all available research, has found having continuous support from a birth partner can reduce complications and make labour shorter.
Obstetrician Dr Ellie Rayner, who founded The Maternity Collective, said she saw ‘first-hand the comfort supportive birth partners bring to a sometimes unknown and unfamiliar situation’.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more