Reduce infection risks to keep pregnant women and their babies safe, says RCM

on 02 November 2020 RCM Maternity Services Covid-19 Staffing Levels NHS Staff Midwife Shortage Safety

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has today urged those calling for a blanket opening-up of services to recognise the potential risk for pregnant women, their babies and other hospital users. While the RCM expressed its understanding at the frustration at restrictions on visiting and the attendance of partners during appointments, they made it clear that these decisions are not made lightly, but in the interests of everyone’s safety.

Despite COVID rates rising across the country, maternity services face increasing pressure to remove any and all restrictions on visiting or partners ability to attend scans and other appointments. However, with many maternity waiting areas being shared with other services, including oncology, and social distancing impossible in some antenatal and postnatal wards, Trusts and Boards are having to make difficult choices.

Birte Harlev-Lam, the RCM’s Executive Director for Professional Leadership, said:

“We absolutely understand the frustration and, in some cases, distress that some pregnant women and their families are feeling. This is not the experience of pregnancy they had anticipated – and it’s not the experience midwives want for them either. Midwives come into the profession to provide the best woman-centred, family-centred care – and this pandemic has changed the way we are able to do that. So that we keep everyone – every woman, every baby and every member of staff – as safe as possible, services are having to reduce the number of people coming into maternity departments. We’re seeing community infection rates rising everywhere. The last thing we want is for hospital infection rates to rise too, putting vulnerable people – and the staff who care for them – at risk.”

The pandemic is continuing to impact staff numbers, with increasing numbers of midwives and maternity support workers either testing positive or needing to isolate due to exposure to the virus. In areas with high COVID levels, this is already leading to some maternity services having to divert pregnant women to other Trusts and Boards.

Birte continued:

“The priority of maternity services is to keep pregnant women and their babies safe – and that includes having the right staff available to care for them. We know that some areas are already struggling to maintain safe staffing levels, which is another reason why some Trusts and Boards may need to reduce visiting times or access to appointments for partners. We know that reducing access is painful for pregnant women, for their partners and for their families. But these decisions aren’t taken lightly, and services are doing all they can to lift restrictions as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

The RCM is concerned that misinformation and ‘fake news’ circulating online and in local communities may stop pregnant women from accessing the care and support they need – or raising their anxiety levels unnecessarily.  Except in an extremely limited number of circumstances, all women know that they will be supported to have at least one partner with them during labour, birth and for the period immediately after the birth. Maternity services remain open for pregnant women, not only for appointments and scans, but also if they have any concerns about their pregnancy or their baby’s movements.

Birte added:

“We know there are women who didn’t have the experience they were expecting, and it’s vital that they receive the ongoing support they need. But we are also hearing from women and families every day about the exceptional care and support, during pregnancy, labour and childbirth, they received from their midwives and maternity team.

“Talk to your midwife. You are not alone – your midwife is on this journey with you. They will be able to talk you through what to expect, from whether some appointments will be done online to when’s the right time to come to hospital when you’re in labour. Each woman is different, so make sure you get the right advice, the right information for you and your baby.”


Notes to Editors

To contact the RCM media office call 020 7312 3456 or email [email protected].

Maternity services are taking a staged approach to opening up areas to visitors and partners – this approach is based on a risk assessment of the current local situation – in terms of the local level of virus prevalence and Government restrictions and the local ‘footprint’ of the clinical area.  Modern maternity units that are lucky enough to have large waiting areas, wide corridors and wards make up entirely of single rooms are more able to accommodate more support people safely than the many old maternity units with six bedded bays in their wards. 

The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance, and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at