To My Teachta Dála,
As more countries begin to announce their goals to ease lockdown over the first half of 2021, Ireland enters another 9 weeks of strict level 5 lockdown, and after that, we face complete uncertainty.
I am writing you this letter to ask you to please help and speak up to the government on behalf of all pregnant women and expectant parents in Ireland, who have been left with total uncertainty since early 2020.
I'm sure you're aware that in early 2020, at the start of the pandemic, maternity hospitals across Ireland banned fathers and support partners from attending all appointments, scans and 1st stages of labour as an emergency and protective measure, leaving pregnant women to face all appointments as well as the sometimes long and challenging 1st stages of labour, completely alone. As well as this, around 15% of women will have received the devastating news that their pregnancy could not continue, without the support of their loved ones by their side.
The total partner ban was an emergency measures, put in place without definitive research or knowledge of their impact. This may be expected at the beginning of a global pandemic.
However, these restrictions have since remained, unchanged and unchecked by the HSE. The HSE have never published any risk assessments or research to qualify these restrictions, which often vary greatly between our maternity hospitals.
To put the number of women forced to access maternity services with no support partner, there were 13,813 births in the first quarter of 2020, (2019 saw 59,796 births). These numbers do not account for those 15% of women who suffer miscarriage (1 in 4 during 1st trimester), and are forced to receive the devastating news alone that their pregnancy cannot continue.
In that respect, how can we be sure that the HSE and hospital management fully understand the way in which these unchecked restrictions are affecting not only healthy pregnant women but those in far more vulnerable circumstances, when there are no assessments or reviews to help understand the impacts on the individual of these long-term, strict restrictions.
I am also deeply concerned of the recent accounts circulating online, from pregnant women who have been forced to give birth alone when testing positive for Covid-19 or even only in close contact of another. Hospitals that are implementing these practices are directly contravening World Health Organisation guidelines, which have long stated that pregnant women with and without Covid-19 have the absolute right to a support partner during labour and birth. The physical and emotional trauma that these practices inflict on a family are unspeakable and shameful.
Most frustratingly, the issue of maternity restrictions has been raised somewhere in the region of 81 times in the Dail between May 2020 and February 2021 by many TDs. On most occasions a *template letter* was received from the Health Minister or National Women and Infants Health Programme each time. This template letter promises that "Where hospitals are unable to facilitate partners they have been asked to document their reasons and review the circumstances weekly."
To my knowledge there has been no such documentation publicly issued by any maternity hospitals or units. To my knowledge, there has been little to no weekly review, with the exception of allowing partners at the 20 week scan - a guideline that was revoked only a month later with no explanation.
Maternity restrictions remain unreviewed, unassessed and unexplained by HSE for nearly 11 months now. Maternity services cannot continue in this way. Pregnant women and their partners have suffered greatly as a consequence, as have the maternity staff who receive a far heavier workload as a consequence of these restrictions.
Pregnant women and their partners and maternity units cannot continue with this uncertainty. We desperately need your help.
Please help us put pressure on the Health Minister and HSE to provide valid, detailed and fully up to date research and assessments regarding these restrictions.
Please help us request detailed reviews and risk assessments from hospital management, as we deserve to know exactly why these restrictions exist and whether, with a full review, they are necessary in their current form.
Please help us find out why the HSE have persisted with these emergency restrictions and why the Health Minister has never fully explained the keeping of these restrictions when there has been many, many months to review them and implement a more humane approach.
Please help pregnant women, fathers and all partners in Ireland receive the respect and dignity they deserve from maternity services during what is arguably one of the most vulnerable and emotional times in their lives.
The sincerest of thanks for taking the time to read this letter, and for all your efforts during this time.