Allow pregnant women to be supported for all maternity care at ENHerts hospitals

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Following the #ButNotMaternity campaign calling to an end of the trauma of lone births and birthing women and people having to attend baby scans alone, which has so far received nearly half a million signatures and had the support of 60 MPs (including Hitchin and Harpenden’s MP Bim Afolami), many NHS Trusts across the country have lifted some or all of their restrictions. (Please follow the link and also sign if you haven’t yet done so).

Unfortunately, East and North Herts Trust – who are responsible for a number of Hertfordshire hospitals including The Lister in Stevenage, The QEII in WGC – are yet to be one of them. This is despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock writing to all NHS chief executives urging them to follow Government guidance which allows partners to attend scans and birth.

Currently, East and North Herts NHS Trust rules state that:

- Only mothers can attend baby scans.* Updated 25/09/20: A woman’s partner or chosen support person can attend the anomaly scan (offered between 18 and 21 weeks, and known as the 20-week scan). 

- One birthing partner can only attend once the mother is 4cm dilated or more. * Updated 25/09/20: The women’s chosen birthing partner can attend from the start of the birthing process and all other assessments which are undertaken in an individual room.

- They are not allowed in for the start of an induction.

- They are not allowed in for Caesarean pre-operation preparation. *Unclear if this has been updated - waiting for confirmation

- They must leave shortly after birth.

- They are not allowed to come onto the ward with mum and baby after birth, they must leave shortly after birth, irrelevant of mothers emotional, mental or physical needs. 

- Further visits are not permitted.

Many local stories have already come to light regarding the distress these rules are causing new mothers and their partners. In the best-case examples, women have had to endure long, painful, and often scary early labour without their partner by their side, coaxing them through. In the worst case, mothers have had to learn during scans that they have miscarried – and then had to reiterate the tragic news to their partner – or given birth alone, due to their partners being unable to make it in time.

Not only is it wrong to be forcing birthing women and people to endure such trauma alone, it is also archaic to make partners take such a significant back seat over their child’s welfare and miss many significant encounters, including important medical baby scans, their partner’s labour and even potentially their child’s birth.

More than that, – the authority on human rights in pregnancy and childbirth in the UK have stated:

"Banning all birth partners is a profound restriction on a woman’s (/birthing person's) right to choose who should give her essential support during a life-changing experience, and also on a partner’s right to be present at the birth of their child. Birthrights does not believe that banning all birth partners can be justified as a proportionate response to the current pandemic, and we are pleased to see this reflected in national guidance."

They also stated that even in the current crisis, "women (/birthing people) still have the right to a safe and positive birth experience", which includes "having a companion of choice". And further highlighted that the underlying principles of the Human Rights Act – which applies to the whole of the UK –say that:

- Every individual has set rights that can’t be restricted without good reason.
- All alternative options need to be explored to ensure restrictions, where they are absolutely necessary, are kept to a minimum to achieve the legitimate aim of protecting the health of others.
- These need to be reviewed as the situation changes.

While the initial restrictions implemented by the EN Herts NHS Trust were clearly done so in line with Government advice and a need and desire to protect patients and staff, it is my belief that they are not being reviewed and adapted correctly, nor can be justified to continue to be implemented where so many other Trusts have lifted them.

It’s also worth noting that for these rights to continue to be restricted, and to avoid being open to legal challenge, the Trust needs to prove:

- They are legal
- They have a legitimate aim
- They are necessary (i.e. proportionate)

Having said all this, this petition is not intended as an attack on our local Trust or the incredible maternity healthcare professionals that have continued to work tirelessly in equally scary and inconceivably challenging circumstances. Nor is it suggesting that parents are more important than NHS staff. The work, dedication and sacrifice of the maternity teams at EN Herts NHS Trust hospitals is invaluable and hugely appreciated. Without question, each and every one equally deserves the right to a safe workplace and protective equipment.

What is being questioned is the legitimacy that partners who follow the necessary guidance – who socially distance, wear protective equipment, only attend if not showing any symptoms of COVID etc – pose enough of a threat to these rights that it justifies them being banned.

As public bodies, NHS Trusts have a duty to balance the need to protect their staff with the need to protect the human rights of their patients. It is my belief this duty is currently not being met for new mothers by our local Trust and the balance urgently needs to be readdressed.

I would therefore ask that, if in agreement, you sign and share this petition in hope that we can show there is strong enough support for this cause, and get the restrictions altered – or even lifted completely – as soon as possible. The simple fact is that the majority of parents have equal parental responsibility over a child – something that should really come into play from the moment they are conceived.

Many thanks for your time reading and supporting this petition.