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Pregnant women should not have to attend any appointments alone

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Lateral flow tests ahead of births are among new measures NHS England has said hospitals must take to ensure pregnant women do not attend appointments alone.

NHS England has issued guidance for trusts, including testing pregnant women and their partners for coronavirus ahead of scans, foetal medicine appointments and births to ensure they can safely attend together.

The guidance also recommends hospitals in England assess their maternity services to identify whether there is an elevated risk of Covid-19 transmission if partners are present.

A friend or relative has been allowed to accompany pregnant women on maternity wards for some time, but coronavirus restrictions meant some have had to be undertaken alone.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM)’s chief executive Gill Walton has welcomed the new guidance because it should allow pregnant women to be accompanied at all stages of their maternity care.

Ms Walton said: “Midwives really want women to have that all-important support of a partner, friend or relative during their pregnancy journey, particularly at scan appointments, during birth and labour.

“Unfortunately, it has been necessary over the past year to place some restrictions on this to help stop the spread of the virus.

“At the time maternity services did not make these decisions lightly, but now as we move towards the easing of restrictions, with more people vaccinated maternity services are beginning to slowly return to normal.”

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This comes after a report into a series of maternal deaths found rules which previously banned partners from attending hospital with pregnant women could have contributed to delays in people seeking care.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) report published in February detailed how some women died alone in hospital because of restrictions from the pandemic.

It also said that public messaging about the pandemic may have also “caused delays” in new mothers and those who lost babies seeking care before they died.

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Ms Walton added that further funding is needed to repair many of the old hospital buildings which host maternity services.

She said: “We now need a similar commitment to improve the buildings these services are in.

“Many of the buildings used are old and in need of repair. They are simply not fit for purpose.

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“We must learn the lessons of the past year and ensure maternity services have the right building and conditions in which to deliver the safest and best possible care for women, their families and for staff.”

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