The easing of restrictions on maternity services at North Devon District Hospital have been welcomed by families and campaigners.
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has announced the lifting of measures to restrict the spread of Covid-19 that had prevented women being accompanied for landmark scans, for part of labour and greatly restricted visiting hours.
They were brought in back in March with the aim of limiting the amount of people in the hospital during the height of the pandemic - government guidance advised they be lifted on September 8 but in North Devon it was a month later.
Now, fathers or birth partners can be present for the whole labour, can attend the 12 and 20 week scans and visiting is allowed on Bassett Ward between 10am and 6pm, for up to eight hours, although the visit must be pre-booked.
Torridge district councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, who is also 17 weeks pregnant, has been calling for the lifting of the restrictions locally and had been set to urge the council at its Monday meeting to support the campaign.
Instead she was able to report the good news and the council voted to send a letter of thanks to the trust.
She said: “It has been heart-breaking to hear of many of the devastating experiences pregnant women have had to endure alone over the last six months and I hope these women are getting the support they need to help them to recover from this trauma.
“I am so pleased our local NHS trust has now made the decision to review and change their rules to reflect the government guidance.
“I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to contact them and express their concern and I’d also like to thank the NHS staff who continue to do such a fantastic job throughout these very difficult times.”
Sophie Bosworth, who has been lobbying for the changes, added: “These rules have had a hugely detrimental effect on expectant mothers and their families and I am so grateful to NDDH for updating their rules to follow the latest government guidance.
“Having trained as a breastfeeding peer supporter, I am very aware of how a lack of love and support during pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period can negatively impact a mother’s well-being, and indeed their breastfeeding journey.
“The reintroduction of partners and visitors is not only a positive thing for mothers; it is vital step forward for fathers and partners too. Fathers and partners should be able to be part of the whole journey and it is not fair that they have missed out on so many important moments that they will never be able to get back.
“Thanks to Simon Walker of NDDH maternity services for his support and open communication on the matter.”
Telling her story, local mum Lauren Bowden said the experience of giving birth during lockdown had been ‘lonely and terrifying’.
She said: “I had my beautiful baby two weeks into lockdown, a time where I can appreciate that the rules regarding visitors, birth partners, PPE etc were ever changing and confusing. However, as I write this six months on I find myself wondering why women are still facing the majority of their birthing journey alone.
“The more time has passed the more I now realise the feelings of anger and pain I now have are actually trauma. Trauma of having labour pains alone in a hospital I had never stayed in before, watching the midwives debate over what PPE they should have been wearing whilst my baby was coming, being left alone on a ward where I had just giving birth and didn’t know how to take care of a baby yet.
“I want to make it very clear that the staff on Bassett were absolutely outstanding. They were there for me as best as they could be when I need my husband, but as I’m sure you can appreciate that that support is not the same as someone who knows you and knows how to make you feel calm and relaxed at a time when you most need to be.
“I am lucky I had a lovely healthy baby and the only complications we faced were my own health. But I can’t help be wonder what other women have gone through and continue to go through at a time that is absolutely terrifying but is also supposed to be magical and special. For me it was just lonely and terrifying.”
You can view the current rules at https://www.northdevonhealth.nhs.uk/2020/10/ndht-maternity-an-update-on-maternity-visiting-and-appointment-restrictions/ .