Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Where are we with visiting restrictions in maternity services now?

Last week, a further letter before action was sent to Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board making clear that we do not regard one hour postnatal visiting for partners to be enough, and we await the Board’s full explanation of how this decision was reached. 

The law firm Irwin Mitchell wrote to Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board with a letter of claim before judicial review on 12th November, in response to their policy to ban visitors on inpatient maternity wards. However on 13th December, the Board announced that partners would be allowed to visit for one hour postnatally.  Whilst this is a welcome step forward compared to no visiting at all, we do not regard this as sufficient, especially as the Board has supplied no evidence as to why one hour was chosen as opposed to a longer period. Irwin Mitchell has therefore sent a further pre-action letter challenging this fresh decision. 

Birthrights and its But Not Maternity Alliance partners remain concerned about the postcode lottery of visiting restrictions. The good news is that most Trusts are welcoming partners at antenatal and scan appointments and 70 out of 149 maternity providers are offering eight hours of visiting or more for partners including 17 offering access 24 hours a day. A further 30 offer between four and eight hours. However in addition to Cwm Taf, a small number:  Hull, Sandwell and Birmingham, Calderdale and Huddersfield, and Dorset also restrict visiting to one hour only. Visiting in Northern Ireland also continues to be very restricted. If you are a service user or local activist in any of these areas we would be very happy to support you to investigate whether these decisions are proportionate and therefore lawful. 

Worryingly, a survey of nearly 7000 women by our friends at Pregnant then Screwed between 8-10th January suggested that the guidance that individuals should always have a partner of choice with them during labour and birth (even when they are COVID-19 positive) is still not well understood, with devastating consequences. One out of five participants either gave birth alone or were told that they would not be able to have a partner with them if they tested positive of COVID-19. And 72% of the pregnant women surveyed said that hospital restrictions were having a negative impact on their mental health.  This recent article from the ASPIRE study highlights the value of companionship and how this has not been factored into decision making during the pandemic.  

Maternity services are facing significant challenges at the moment. It is therefore more crucial than ever that partners are able to support their loved ones during their maternity journey. We know that this not only relieves anxiety for families it also relieves pressure on staff. We will provide further updates on the Cwm Taf legal challenge in due course.