Long disappointed by Health Minister’s refusal to reconsider visiting guidance for maternity services

Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has said she is disappointed by the Health Minister’s refusal to reconsider visiting guidance for maternity services during the pandemic.

East Belfast MLA Mrs Long was speaking after receiving a response from Robin Swann to a letter she sent asking for current restrictions to be relaxed in order to allow the pregnant person to be accompanied to all prenatal appointments and throughout their time in hospital by their chosen birth partner.

The Minister’s reply reiterated the decision to allow birth partners to accompany pregnant women to scans and during active labour, as determined by the midwife, and to visit in antenatal and postnatal wards for up to an hour a week, with the decision to permit visitors into a facility on a day-to-day basis still lying with the midwife in charge, and based on a risk assessment concerning social distancing and the safety of patients and the visitor.

Mrs Long said she will continue to push for further changes to be made.

“There is no doubt we are in uncertain times and COVID-19 has changed the way we live beyond recognition. I also appreciate the Minister is working hard to protect patients from contracting the virus, however, despite recognising in his reply this is not the experience he would have hoped for expectant mothers, little progress in terms of improving that experience has been made.

“The answer does not provide clarity for parents-to-be, instead indicating the situation could vary hospital to hospital and shift to shift, depending on the view of the midwife. It is a stressful enough time, without this added uncertainty.

“Suggesting partners can visit once a week seems at odds with the reality most people will only spend a few days in a maternity unit. However, those early hours and days are critical to the bonding process and are also a time when people may need extra support looking after their newborn. Often partners are able to help with washing, changing and caring for the baby while their partner recovers from labour, relieving pressure on the ward staff.

“Sadly, not all deliveries are straightforward and not all babies are born healthy. Where they remain in hospital for longer than a week, it is likely to be due to serious complications – a single visit per week seems excessively restrictive if your partner or newborn is seriously ill and is causing serious distress and anxiety.

“Whilst sympathetic to the challenges, I am disappointed with the response from the Minister and will be pressing him to reconsider and take heed of the impact on both parents and newborns at such an important time in their lives.”