HSE advises maternity hospitals to further ease visiting restrictions

HSE advises maternity hospitals to further ease visiting restrictions

An expanded visiting policy will allow the partners of pregnant women greater access during scans and emergency presentations. 

An expanded visiting policy for maternity hospitals will be issued by the HSE this week which will allow the partners of pregnant women greater access during scans and emergency presentations. 

The current policy advises hospitals that the partners of pregnant women should be facilitated at the 20-week anomaly scan, and the labour and birth of their child, where hospitals consider it safe to do so. 

Partners are also allowed minimum 30-minute daily visits after the birth and visits to neonatal intensive care units.

The HSE's chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry said today that three additional areas will fall under the expanded visiting guidelines:

  • Early pregnancy assessment units when women go for an emergency scan
  • Antenatal visits for women with high-risk pregnancies 
  • Emergency presentations during the third trimester 

Speaking at a briefing today, Dr Colm Henry said visiting policies are being continually updated in light of evolving Covid-19 situations.

“We are now moving forward with greater confidence,” he said. 

“But with some degree of caution which is always justified, because we have an obligation as well to protect pregnancy and protect women, especially given our concerns over the Delta virus and its transmissibility.” 

Dr Henry said: “We are now moving forward and looking at other areas which can be particularly tense and cause anxiety for women and their partners.” 

A letter is being issued this week, and it is expected that the 19 maternity units will then assess this advice in light of their particular local situations. 

There is no deadline by which this must be applied nationally.

The HSE’s information currently, based on a survey carried out this week, is that all 19 units are in compliance with the original visitor guidelines.

The Irish Examiner asked Dr Henry why some hospitals are defining labour as active labour commencing at 4cm dilation only, while others allow partners to attend for the duration of labour.

He said: “Partners should be with women in the labour wards.” 

But he said in some hospitals women may start labour outside these spaces, and that is where he understands the need has arisen for limiting access.

“What we said in the visiting policy, is that partners should be with women on the labour wards when they are in labour,” he said.

Updated guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), issued yesterday, echoes the new HSE policy.

It also states: “This is not intended as an exclusive list and it is important to recognise other contexts in which the presence of an accompanying person is required.” 

The HPSC document says any restrictions on items listed in the policy, should be based on a “documented risk assessment that is reviewed regularly”. 

This should include staffing levels, infrastructure, and potential adverse impact on women and their families as well as Covid-levels.

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