Each maternity unit to decide on visitor rules

Each maternity unit to decide on visitor rules

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The visiting restrictions imposed on partners of pregnant women will change depending on how busy maternity hospitals are under new guidelines.

There have been growing calls to introduce national guidelines to end the "postcode lottery" of Covid visitor restrictions which has seen some women birth alone and has banned partners from attending scans.

However, hospital managers will continue to decide on restrictions imposed across the country's 19 maternity services and will be asked to take the physical space of wards and waiting rooms into account as well as the number of women being cared for at any point in time in any part of the service.

The Government had asked Dr Peter McKenna of the National Women and Infants Health Programme to draw up national guidelines.

But the document, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, states that it is impossible to standardise restrictions across all sites delivering maternity care.

"There are three main reasons that this principle does not necessarily translate into identical visiting conditions," the report states.

The different rates of infection across the country, the risk to staff and the fact that buildings and infrastructure varies widely have been cited as issues.

"For example most maternity hospitals and units were built before scanning services were available and frequently scanning departments have been retro-fitted or converted from existing accommodation.

No scan department was built or designed with the concept of social distancing in mind.

In the past month, Dublin's Rotunda Hospital has been able to allow partners back in to accompany women to the key 20-week anomaly scan.

However, Master of the Rotunda Hospital Dr Fergal Malone said "every hospital is a little bit different in its physical layout" and so this may not be possible for all facilities.

Each maternity service has now been requested to review visiting arrangements on a weekly basis and to document their decisions.

Partners of expectant women have been excluded from early labour and prenatal scans in some regions, meaning some women have been told of the loss of a child alone.

The guidance document addresses pregnancy loss, still birth and unexpected complications.

While it is not possible to know which women will receive distressing and upsetting news, the guidelines say that "as and when these situations arise or are known or suspected in advance, maternity services have adapted their visiting restrictions in these situations to ensure that women have the on-site support of their partner".

"All units have been requested to prioritise the allocation of resources (time, space and staff) to ensure that the support required by women in these circumstances is available when bad news can be anticipated."

The HSE hopes that visiting restrictions may begin to ease further on a phased basis, but the report states that the lifting of visiting restrictions during a pandemic must be done with "extreme care".

"Every restriction and deviation from normal practice across the country is a cause of concern and regret at local and national level.

"Maternity services and their dedicated staff are acutely aware of how unique the pregnancy journey is for each woman and her family and are mindful how the presence of loved ones can offer unique support and care in this journey."

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