WE could see a rise in stillbirths and newborn deaths as high-risk pregnancies are missing amid the coronavirus crisis, experts warned today.
Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health Select Committee said leading doctors are worried about the impact of fewer appointments and missed scans, while the NHS deals with Covid-19.
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Mr Hunt said president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Eddie Morris, has warned that women at high risk of stillbirth could be slipping through the cracks, as the NHS focuses on tackling Covid-19.
The former health secretary put the question to Gill Walton, chief exec of the Royal College of Midwives.
"I do share that concern," she told MPs.
"Some of that is related to the fear of the pregnant population.
"That prevents them from picking up the phone to their midwife if they have problems or notice reduced movement.
"I believe that maternity services have tried their best to try and provide a normal service as much as possible.
"I do think it's really important to be getting the message out that maternity services are still there and women should still come forward."
Ms Walton said that follow-ups on women who miss scans and appointments has been enhanced.
She added: "One of the positives from the pandemic is the use of technology, so there has been more virtual contact and follow-up with women through midwives and maternity services than before."
Dads encouraged to be at birth
MPs also addressed the issues of birthing partners being able to be present during labour – an issue worrying many pregnant women approaching their due date.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was at Carrie Symonds's side when she delivered their new baby boy on Wednesday.
Ms Walton said while partners are unable to attend scans, they are encouraged to be there during child birth.
She told MPs: "At the beginning visitors were banned from some appointments, but there was a good support for a partner to be with a mother in labour because of the psychological support that gives.
"I am delighted that it was not changed.
"It is essential women have someone with them in labour.
"I know there has been disappointment with partners not being able to go for scans and appointments.
"In normal times we would encourage all of those things."
Mental health concerns
As well as concerns around labour and stillbirth, MPs quizzed Ms Walton on mental health issues.
She warned that many patients have complained of being more anxious during the pandemic – and urged pregnant women to contact their midwives.
"A lot women get anxious during pregnancy anyway and I think the pathways for advice and referrals have got better over recent years," Ms Walton told the committee.
"During the pandemic, women have become even more anxious because pregnant women are a vulnerable group, so there has been an increase in referrals to perinatal mental health services, we know that.
"What we are trying to do is bring some of that support and care back to the midwife.
"Every woman has a midwife, midwives have training in supporting women who have anxiety and apprehension, and the ability to refer onwards if they believe a wider mental health team would be of assistance."
Ms Walton also said she was concerned about the apparent disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME staff and pregnant women.
She added that expectant mothers from BAME backgrounds should be treated "as more vulnerable than the general population and midwives are aware of that".
Ms Walton said one of the positives of the crisis is that technology has meant there has been more virtual contact and follow-up with women who miss scans and appointments.
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But she said home births have faced the biggest impact from the pandemic, with services disrupted due to reasons including staffing issues and paramedic ambulance capacity.
She said: "Those decisions have to be made and ultimately that really upsets women who've chosen home birth as an option and something we would all support as a safe and viable option for women."
Ms Walton said that returning to home births would require risk assessments, the return of staffing and testing of women in the community who want to have a baby at home.
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