Pregnant women attending scans and appointments alone are repeatedly being told they cannot record or take photographs of their unborn child to show their partner, according to a survey.
The poll of more than 3,450 pregnant women by the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found that more than half of respondents (52%) attended scans alone and were also told that they could not record or take photographs during the appointment.
NHS trusts have been warned that they could be acting unlawfully if they continue to ban partners of pregnant women accessing hospital appointments remotely. Women are repeatedly being told it is “illegal” to photograph or film their scan, despite this not being the case, said the charity Birthrights, which sought the legal advice.
“We are keen to see maternity services accommodate partners in person, in line with national guidance,” said Birthrights’ programmes director, Maria Booker. “However if this is really not possible at some hospitals during the current peak, maternity services must find other ways to ensure women feel supported and partners remain involved.”
Claire, who is pregnant with her second child, said she had to go to hospital alone for many extra scans and consultant appointments as her previous baby was born small. Her husband was able to attend the 12- and 20-week scan, but because of a ban on filming he had not yet heard the heartbeat of the baby. “It’s been really hard not having my husband there and I’m left feeling anxious with it all,” said Claire. “And my husband just feels like dads are an afterthought, their feelings aren’t considered.”
In December hospital trusts were ordered by the NHS to allow pregnant women to have their partners present throughout scans, labour and birth after growing outrage that women were being forced to go through labour alone, or hear devastating news about miscarriages without the support of their partners.
But many trusts continue to restrict access to maternity services to decrease the risk of spreading coronavirus. The Royal College of Midwives has called on trusts to exercise “common sense” stating: “Safety must be the paramount concern.”
Birthrights said it had written to the Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR), whose current guidance does not support remote access, arguing that a pregnant woman holding a phone leads to “a taut abdomen, which makes scanning extremely difficult”, and could extend examination times and distract the clinician. The guidance does support providing women with “a short 10-30-second cine clip of the fetus at the end of selected examinations”.
But Birthrights and Pregnant Then Screwed argue that the guidance ignores “the clinical nature of partner participation”, adding that a clip “does not fully address the clinical importance of facilitating proper patient participation”.
Legal advice from Doughty Street Chambers, with support from Irwin Mitchell solicitors, states that blanket prohibition of streaming or recording when a partner can not attend “is likely to be unlawful, discriminatory and violate both articles 8 and 14” of the European convention on human rights.
Joeli Brearley, the founder of Pregnant then Screwed, said not allowing women to document their scans was “unnecessarily cruel”. “It is not illegal to take photographs and videos and for many this is a vital way to help their partner feel included and retain information at this incredibly stressful time.”
Faith Salih, an associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell said it was the firm’s view that the law supported remote participation in antenatal scans. “An outright refusal to make arrangements to enable pregnant women to involve their partners in the antenatal appointments, either by streaming or recording the appointments could breach the rights of both parents,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it was aware how difficult coronavirus restrictions were for families, adding: “Decisions about access for support partners will need to be based on local information and testing capacity, but the information should be clearly communicated.”