Charities call for Covid-19 Inquiry to centre voices of parents on disrupted maternity care

This week Tommy’s was among the pregnancy and baby charities to tell an Inquiry into the UK’s Covid-19 response how all aspects of pregnancy, maternity, neonatal and postnatal care were dramatically disrupted during the pandemic.

The result was the avoidable suffering experienced by thousands of pregnant women and birthing people, new and expectant parents, and babies.

Antenatal and postnatal care are specific areas to be covered in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s ‘Terms of Reference’. But while the Inquiry has committed to examining the impact of the pandemic on antenatal and postnatal care as part of its overall scope, it is not yet clear how this will be approached.  

Tommy’s, in partnership with other charities, is calling for detailed focus as part of the Inquiry’s ‘Module 3’ investigations into Covid-19's effect on healthcare, so families’ experiences are not overlooked.  

At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday 28 February, barrister Adam Wagner told the Inquiry how blanket policies implemented at the start of the pandemic had a devastating effect on thousands of families during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby or babies. 

Instructed by Slater and Gordon, he represents 13 baby and pregnancy organisations who are core Inquiry participants, including Tommy’s, Bliss, and the Miscarriage Association. 

Disruption to services and its impact 

The Inquiry heard how disruption to services led to pregnant women and birthing people attending clinics, scans and hospital appointments alone, with many receiving the devastating news that their baby or babies had a serious condition, had died or that their pregnancy had ended, without their partner or anyone else with them for support.  

While staff worked hard to adapt, make the most of resources, and keep maternity services running without compromising patient safety, for parents, choice around place of birth was restricted, with services being suspended during intrapartum care. Postnatal support was significantly reduced, impacting mental health and infant feeding services particularly.  

Sick babies in neonatal care were separated from their parents, and some families experienced the devastation of being unable to be with their babies until they were receiving end-of-life care. 

Lessons must be learned 

On behalf of the group of 13 charities, Chief Executive of The Lullaby Trust, and co Vice-Chair of the Pregnancy and Baby Charities Network Jenny Ward says: 

‘’Our charities supported thousands of people during the pandemic, and heard countless stories of how the health, safety and wellbeing of expectant parents and their babies were compromised repeatedly. We’ve also worked with frontline health professionals who feel they were not adequately supported throughout this time, and whose training needs were not fully addressed. 

‘’While the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has committed to examining the impact of the pandemic on antenatal and postnatal care as part of its overall scope, it has not yet set out that it will be examined specifically within Module 3, which focuses on healthcare.  

“We have urged the Inquiry to ensure this is explicitly included in this Module. With so many affected by the changes to services, it is vital that the Inquiry dedicates adequate time to hearing the voices of parents and expectant parents, to reflect what they and their babies lived through. 

‘’Nothing could have prepared the families and babies we support for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What we do know is that decisions made during this time contributed to the stress, pain and harm which was experienced at a time when life already felt like it was turned upside down. 

‘’While as individual organisations we support babies and families at all different stages of their pregnancy, birth and early childhood journey, we are united in our determination to ensure important lessons are learned so that policies implemented in future explicitly consider the full impact on new and expectant parents and their babies”. 

Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive says:

Despite the enormous strain the NHS was under during the pandemic, significant efforts were made by dedicated staff to keep maternity services running. But we know from the sheer number of people who contacted Tommy’s for support, and the tragic stories we heard and continue to hear, that many families did not get the right care, in the right place, at the right time.  

The Government and healthcare services were slow to respond to concerns around the way maternity care was being delivered, and it is important that decisions are scrutinised, and lessons are learnt. We must continue to make sure women and birthing people are provided with safe, best practice care throughout their pregnancy journeys.