More than half of pregnant women were denied their partner’s support during birth last year despite the end of Covid-19 restrictions, the care watchdog has found.
A survey of more than 20,000 women who gave birth in February 2022 also shows a “concerning decline” in women’s experiences with maternity services over the last five years.
The annual report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found less than half (41 per cent) of those surveyed said their partner or someone else close to them was able to stay with them as much as they wanted during their hospital stay.
This had increased from 34 per cent in 2021, but was still well below pre-pandemic levels when three quarters had their partner with them as much as they wanted.
At the beginning of the pandemic hospital visitors, including birthing partners, were restricted from attending scans and appointments.
In December 2020 NHS England issued guidance stating that pregnant women should be allowed to have one person beside them at “all stages of their maternity journey”.
But the CQC’s findings suggest some hospitals are still restricting visiting rights.
Situation described as ‘unacceptable’
Angela McConville, CEO of the National Childbirth Trust, said it was “unacceptable” that less than half of women were able to have their partner with them as much as they’d like while giving birth.
“Lockdown-era postnatal policies must end now,” she said. “Trusts must immediately enable partners’ presence at in-hospital postnatal care so that mothers are never left without food and water, emotional support, access to a bathroom and help to lift and feed their baby.”
The CQC survey also revealed that fewer women felt they always got the help they needed during labour and birth, and a significant number reported that they did not feel listened to when they raised concerns.
Concerns were also raised about staff availability, confidence and trust, as well as kindness and understanding of staff.
The watchdog said it had noticed a “deterioration” over the last five years in the ratings women gave their maternity care.
Ratings also tumbled for whether women felt they had been treated with dignity and respect, the amount of information provided to mothers, and their concerns about being listened to.
High-profile inquiries into maternity care
Maternity care in the NHS has been thrown into the spotlight after several high-profile inquiries - including the Ockenden Review and the investigation into maternity services in East Kent.
Victoria Vallance, from the CQC, said: “These results show that far too many women feel their care could have been better.
“The trend analysis carried out this year reveals a concerning decline over time, particularly in relation to accessing information and support and getting help when it was most needed.
“This reflects the increasing pressures on front-line staff as they continue in their efforts to provide high-quality maternity care with the resources available.”
Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity and women’s health for the NHS in England, said: “The CQC survey results show the ongoing impact of the pandemic on maternity services, and while the majority of women were positive about their interactions with staff and the information provided, other findings show the implications of sustained workforce challenges and reinforce the need for further improvements to maternity services.”
He added that the NHS is investing £165 million annually to grow its maternity workforce and improve its culture, while working with trusts to improve services for mothers and babies.