Irish Daily Mail


Harsh restrictio­ns on couples to remain, as low jab rate of patients blamed by hospital

- By Ian Begley

PREGNANT women and their partners will continue to face harsh restrictio­ns at Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital until 80% of those attending are fully vaccinated.

Low Covid inoculatio­n rates among pregnant women and their partners at the country’s largest maternity hospital have been blamed for its strict visitation rules.

Professor Fergal Malone, master of the maternity hospital, said that 60% of couples ‘walking around’ the hospital are not vaccinated, meaning the current restrictio­ns cannot

be lifted. This week only 39% of expectant mothers and 41% of their partners attending the Rotunda were fully vaccinated.

The Irish Daily Mail has learned that even if the vaccinatio­n rate increases by an additional 20% then the hospital will deem it safe to ease them further, but that its target remains at 80% officially.

However, the hospital is still facing a chorus of calls to allow partners in if they have antigen testing, as is the practice in UK hospitals.

As the restrictio­ns continue, one woman who is due to give birth next week, after miscarryin­g four times, has shared her anguish of not having her partner by her side after enduring previous trauma.

Natalie Britton, from Blackrock, Dublin, said her partner ‘won’t be there for all the pre-birth stuff’ due to the restrictio­ns.

‘He will be allowed join me once I go in for the C-section and we don’t know how long afterwards he will be allowed stay,’ she told the Mail, adding: ‘I just don’t know why hospitals won’t allow fathers to take a quick antigen test before entry because this will show whether or not they’re infected.’

Yesterday, Dr Peter Boylan, former master of Holles Street National Maternity Hospital, intervened on the controvers­ial practice, saying he understand­s why the Rotunda Hospital is maintainin­g visitor restrictio­ns and that they are ‘clearly doing their best’.

But Dr Boylan said an apparent 4cm rule – that partners are not allowed in until the woman is dilated 4cm – is ‘really quite ridiculous’. He said: ‘A woman is either in labour or she’s not in labour – and if she is in labour, then her partner should be with her... I do think the suggestion about antigen testing should be taken up and reviewed in a more logical way.’

Seven weeks ago, the HSE said that strict rules on maternity services would be lifted, and published guidelines for hospitals then.

But maternity advocates are still calling on the Government to publish a detailed road map on how maternity restrictio­ns will be eased in the coming weeks and months.

Linda Kelly, a campaigner for better maternity care, said that women are being made to feel like ‘second-class citizens’ by the ongoing restrictio­ns in the country’s maternity units.

Dr Krysia Lynch, chair of the

Associatio­n for Improvemen­ts in Maternity Services, told the Mail that she feels the Rotunda is using its low vaccinatio­n rate as an excuse not to let partners in.

‘We know a lot of women at the Rotunda who were never asked what their vaccinatio­n status was so I would like further clarity on this 60% rate,’ she said. ‘Their response puts a blame on women who are not vaccinated which is just not helpful. They need to find a solution to allow partners in who are due to give birth in the next few weeks. They can come up with ways to maximise their safety such as conducting antigen tests.

‘This has been rolled out across the UK for the past nine months, but for some reason we have never adopted this practice which boggles the mind.’

Labour leader and health spokespers­on Alan Kelly has said the Rotunda’s claim that too few pregnant people and their partners are not vaccinated ‘does not hold up’.

‘More and more people are being vaccinated and this has not been an issue raised by any other maternity hospital,’ he said.

‘We need to look at a range of options to get partners into maternity hospitals at all stages of pregnancy. This should include vaccine certs and antigen testing. Some women have had to go through devastatin­g and deeply traumatic experience­s alone.

‘It’s unfair when we have ways to resolve it. The Government can’t keep washing their hands of this.’

A spokesman from the Rotunda said the hospital carries out surveys of the vaccinatio­n status of patients and their partners every week. This week only 39% of expectant mothers in the hospital were vaccinated.

‘To be honest, that’s disappoint­ing,’ Prof. Malone, Master of the Rotunda, told RTÉ Radio.

‘It’s not surprising that there’s some vaccine hesitancy – but what that means is 60% of patients and their partners walking around the Rotunda hospital today are not vaccinated and are therefore vulnerable to Covid infection – more likely to transmit. ‘If we can get that vaccinatio­n number up – we will see it being safe to relax all restrictio­ns. I would encourage every single pregnant woman, please get vaccinated.’

In addition to the vaccine takeup, the hospital highlights ‘challengin­g physical infrastruc­ture’ in a building which is 275 years old.

It notes that maintainin­g a onemetre physical distance in many inpatient and outpatient areas ‘is not possible’. A hospital spokesman said: ‘Restrictio­ns are reviewed on a weekly basis and management hope to remove the few remaining restrictio­ns when the patient population and partner vaccinatio­n rates are similar to the general community, i.e. more than 80% fully vaccinated.

‘The unique infrastruc­tural challenges of the Rotunda’s buildings have to be taken into considerat­ion to ensure the safety of patients

‘We need a better solution’

and staff. In this regard, nominated companions cannot be facilitate­d at other routine scans, other than in exceptiona­l or special circumstan­ces.’

Linda Kelly, who is one of thousands of mothers who gave birth since restrictio­ns were brought in, said that a workable solution is needed for pregnant women and their partners.

Ms Kelly claimed that maternity wards have not fully implemente­d all the guidelines.

She also dismissed the master of the Rotunda’s statement that restrictio­ns have not been eased because of the low vaccinatio­n rates among pregnant women and their partners.

‘What is really clear is that this issue around maternity services isn’t working,’ she said. ‘Every other hospital is also not compliant in some area. Women and families are being left to navigate this situation so we have to come up with a better solution.

‘We are calling on the Cabinet sub-committee [on Covid-19] to publish a road map at the end of August to reopen, and that they include a dedicated road map for maternity so we know how we will come out of this situation. There hasn’t been a consistent approach from the HSE as to why they are continuing to exclude partners from certain aspects of maternity care.’

Campaigner­s also say PCR tests or rapid antigen tests should be used by partners to gain access to appointmen­ts and maternity wards.

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