On Thursday 5th November MPs came together to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on those experiencing pregnancy and baby loss during the pandemic, and what needed to be done to avoid the unintended negative consequences of restrictions to services during the second wave.

This debate was the culmination of months of work by Sands.

Back in the Spring, we began to gather evidence of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pregnant women, and bereaved parents and families. Fewer appointments, having to attend appointments and scans alone, particularly for those pregnant after loss, or when receiving bad news, were cited as concerns by many. 

We also heard heart-breaking stories of women who felt they were discouraged from seeking help when they needed it, or who found the changing nature of care and restrictions added to their stress and anxiety.

In response to this, throughout the pandemic we have been collecting and sharing the latest bereavement care and professional clinical guidance, and information on support and training for professionals. Much of this is regularly up-dated in light of rapid learning from data, research and evolving experience of delivering health services – so we now send out regular e-bulletins to help keep professionals up to date.

Many of the issues initially raised have now been tackled, thanks to the vital work of healthcare professionals across the UK. However, in some areas, they tell us that despite their best efforts they are being prevented by their own hospital’s policies from implementing NHS guidance on allowing partners access to maternity services.

So the debate came at a crucial time as many parts of the UK are subject to stricter lockdowns, and pregnant women, those who have lost a baby and their families, face further restrictions to support and services. We are also beginning to understand the full and devastating impact of the first lockdown on bereaved families.

Many MPs highlighted the number one issue that pregnant women, bereaved parents and professionals have raised with us during the pandemic – lack of access for partners to maternity and pregnancy appointments and scans.

We are very grateful to all the MPs who spoke so openly and honestly about their own experiences – showing us that there are MPs who truly understand how it feels when a pregnancy or baby is lost, and that they will advocate for vital action from Government, even when it is personally challenging.

The Government can now be left in no doubt that, it is essential that pregnant women can be accompanied to appointments and scans, and that hospitals that are not allowing this to happen must be better supported so that they can. The adverse impact on those experiencing pregnancy and baby loss, or who are pregnant following a previous loss, was made abundantly clear.

We remain concerned that this means some hospitals are not doing enough to allow partners access. However, we now have information on where hospitals are finding it difficult to implement the guidance. We hope that by sharing this information with the Government, it will help them target the hospitals that need more support to allow partners to accompany pregnant women, and those experiencing the loss of a baby, in accessing maternity services.

-    Clea Harmer, Chief Executive, Sands

As well as campaigning on behalf of bereaved parents and families Sands also continues to professionals working in the NHS and elsewhere, by offering a safe space to talk, or message, whichever field they are working in, through our free helpline and other support services.

By keeping this issue on the Government’s agenda and helping professionals adapting to the pandemic Sands has made a big difference in ensuring that many of these issues raised by pregnant women and bereaved parents have now been tackled. 

Following the debate the Minister Nadine Dorries MP has confirmed that the Government expects hospitals to use the NHS: “guidance on reintroducing access for partners in English maternity services and consider as a priority how access for partners can be reintroduced as soon as possible whilst maintaining the safety of all service users, staff and visitors”.

 You can watch the debate on Parliament TV here and read the full transcript here.

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