Maternity services could be hit if infection rates climb say Royal colleges in Freedom Day caution plea
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which between them represent the majority of NHS staff working in maternity, have warned that services face significant challenges as COVID-19 restrictions are eased across England. There are serious concerns about whether NHS Trusts will be able to keep maternity services running at full capacity if infection rates continue to climb at the current rate. During previous waves, some services had to be limited or completely suspended for brief periods. With ambulance support already under increasing strain, home births could be impacted – with suspensions already being reported.
Both Colleges are asking maternity services users, their families, and friends to continue to exercise caution around issues such as mask wearing, social distancing and hygiene, when in hospitals and maternity units.
Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the RCM, said: “Those working in maternity services are genuinely concerned that so-called Freedom Day will be seen by some as a free for all. Midwives, maternity support workers and obstetricians have worked so hard over the past 16 months to keep those using and visiting their services as safe as they can. Unfortunately there is a small but significant minority who refuse to wear masks or don’t follow social distancing guidance – and abuse staff who ask them to. The number one priority of every maternity service is to keep people safe and well, whether that’s staff or those using the service. We simply don’t want to see them overwhelmed again and be forced to cut back on some services.
“Hospitals need a higher level of protection than outside them because of the concentration of vulnerable and unwell patients. Staff are also in close contact with a lot of people every shift. Our message is to respect any ongoing limitations on visitor numbers, such as around beds in bays on antenatal and postnatal wards. This is being done to keep you, your loved ones safe and NHS staff safe.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the RCOG, said: “Women need to be supported throughout their labour and birth, and it is important that a partner is involved at all stages of the maternity and postnatal journey, but it’s also vital that we keep women, their babies and maternity staff safe as COVID-19 cases rise across the country.
“Many pregnant women have still not received the vaccine, and are therefore potentially more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. With restrictions being eased, we strongly encourage pregnant women to consider getting vaccinated as soon as possible, as the vaccine is the most effective way to protect women and their babies against COVID-19.
“We are pleased the NHS is approaching the easing of restrictions on the 19 July with caution, and continuing to enforce measures such as social distancing and mask wearing across maternity wards. This is essential to reduce the risk of infection for those accessing services, and those working in healthcare settings.
“We understand that these continuing safety measures will be frustrating for those hoping restrictions across maternity units would end, but the rising COVID-19 cases indicate that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for some time yet. We would encourage Trusts to use innovative approaches to ensure the inclusion of partners throughout all stages of the maternity and postnatal journey, as this is essential for the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their families.”
Gill Walton added: “If you can, get vaccinated. It’s safe for you and it’s safe for your baby – and even one dose will give you both some protection, even if you can’t fit both in before you give birth. Getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in crowded places and keeping to social distancing as much as you can are the best ways of keeping yourself and your baby safe.”
Notes to Editors
Government advice for pregnant employees is available from:
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is a medical charity that champions the provision of high-quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.
The Royal College of Midwives (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.