A small and controlled protest took place outside Letterkenny University Hospital this morning calling for restrictions to be lifted in Ireland’s maternity units.

Letterkenny University Hospital currently allows partners to be present at the anomaly (20 week) scan and during labour.

Today’s protest was part of the AIMS maternal advocacy group campaign to highlight maternity restrictions which are not in keeping with national guidance that excludes partners from attending pregnancy appointments and the early stages of labour.

L-R: Anne Doherty Quinn, Francis John Cunningham, Megan Rice Cunningham, Senator Eileen Flynn, Liam Whyte

Hospitals have the right to carry out their own risk assessment on an individual basis to determine restrictions, while the HSE has told the hospitals that restrictions on partners should only happen if it is absolutely essential.

Senator Eileen Flynn, who is five months pregnant, said she has had to deal with the loneliness of receiving hospital care during pregnancy without her partner:

“You can go to the hairdressers, you can go to Penneys, kids can play GAA, you can go to Church, but you can’t have one person in with you, when you are in labour, which is one of the most difficult things that you do, and when you are at your most vulnerable,” says Anne Doherty Quinn, Donegal hypnobirthing instructor.

Doherty Quinn said she has seen women struggling with the mental health impact of stress and worry of what will or will not be allowed on the day of their childbirth.

“When things are not going the way that you hoped it would, that is the time when you need the support,” she said.

Anne Doherty Quinn – Simply Birth Donegal

“A woman in labour needs to feel safe and supported, but once that support person is taken away, you’re almost into a scenario where a birth or labour is going to be longer and more difficult.

“It’s not that they are not getting the support of midwives, they are doing their best, it’s not physically possible for them to give the support that each individual woman needs.”

The Association for Improvements in Maternity Services Ireland (AIMS Ireland) has been in contact with the Minister for Health, HSE and individual maternity units and hospital groups since March 2020 seeking that evidence which supports restrictions be published.

“Until every partner, in every maternity unit in Ireland, is able to walk freely into every appointment, scan, NICU, and for the entirety of labour and birth to provide the support and care that women and pregnant people tell us they need,  we will continue to put the pressure on,” said the group.

Saolta has confirmed that restrictions on maternity visits will be reviewed next week.

A spokesperson said: “While the community transmission rates in Donegal have improved, the 14 day incidence rate remains twice the national average and the risk associated with COVID-19 remains.

“The hospital has had a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the Maternity Department and it was important for the duration of the outbreak to minimise the number of people visiting the Department. The arrangements for visiting by partners on the maternity ward will be reviewed again next week.”

Currently at Letterkenny University Hospital the following access is being facilitated for birthing partners/parents:

·        Birthing partners of women in labour are welcome to attend and partners can attend a caesarean section done under regional anaesthesia. Partners will be subject to screening questions and wearing PPE.

·        Parents of an infant in the Special Care Baby Unit may visit.

·        A partner or support person may attend for the anomaly (20 week) scan.

“We appreciate the patience shown by families over the past year in supporting us to keep our patients and services safe from COVID-19,” said a Saolta spokesperson.