Rules that banned people from attending hospitals with their pregnant partners during the first wave of the Covid pandemic could have contributed to maternity deaths, a new report has suggested.
Public messaging around the virus, such as “Stay Home”, may have also “caused delays” in those who lost babies seeking care before they died, the report said.
The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) research details how some women died alone in hospital because of restrictions. Investigators examined 19 maternal deaths in England in the early stages of the pandemic.
“National and local policies were implemented to restrict the attendance of partners and families at hospitals to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 to patients, families, and the public,” the report said. “These policies meant that women were alone when attending hospital… Partners were permitted to be on labour wards only when the woman was in labour and were asked to return home hours after the baby was born.
“This contributed to decisions to delay attendance at hospital or to self-discharge. Several fathers told the investigations that they were unable to be present for the birth of their child.”
Seven of the 19 women, who died between March and May, died within 24 hours of the end of their pregnancy. Three died within a week and the others died within eight to 39 days.
“The visiting restrictions at the time meant the women were unable to be with family members during their admissions,” the report’s authors wrote. “Investigations noted other instances when families did not have the opportunity to visit the woman prior to her death.”
They highlighted the case of one woman admitted alone because of the pandemic, adding: “This has caused the family great concern as they were unable to be with the woman when she collapsed and died.”
Some women feared catching Covid and “there were examples of women staying away from hospitals for as long as they could”, the report’s authors said.
In one case, an emergency Caesarean section was delayed due to the extra length of time needed for putting on personal protective equipment (PPE). Two resuscitation attempts were delayed due to the additional time needed to put on PPE. The report also suggested some tests were avoided because they added the risk of virus transmission.
The leading cause of death among the women was blood clots. The leading indirect cause of death was Covid.
An NHS spokesman said: “Despite the pandemic, NHS staff have safely delivered thousands of babies over the past year while doing everything possible to protect patients and staff against the risk of the virus. Our guidance for local services to implement has always been absolutely clear that mums should be accompanied by their partners for childbirth.”