Covid restrictions on maternity wards could be scrapped if there is a higher vaccination uptake among expectant mothers and their partners, the master of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital has said.
Professor Fergal Malone said weekly surveys of patients and visitors have shown that just 39% of pregnant women and 41% of their partners visiting the hospital have been fully vaccinated.
He said if that figure rises to the level seen in the general population, of between 75% and 85%, then “you’ll see it being safe to relax all restrictions”.
Prof Malone said: “Last week, 39% of inpatients of mothers in the Rotunda Hospital were fully vaccinated and only 41%, almost identical, of their partners are fully vaccinated.
“To be honest with you, that’s disappointing.
“But, in a way, I suppose it’s not surprising, because there is some vaccine hesitancy.
“What that means is 60% of the patients and/or partners walking around the Rotunda Hospital today are not vaccinated and therefore are vulnerable to Covid infections and indeed more likely to transmit.”
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “That’s the common myth about maternity services – while 75% to 85% of the general population are vaccinated, that’s not reflected in what’s going on in maternity hospitals.
“If we can get that vaccination number up towards those that range, absolutely you’ll see it being safe to relax all restrictions.
“So I’d encourage every single pregnant woman, please get vaccinated, and their partners.”
The HSE says birth partners can attend maternity wards, but the decision is ultimately down to the hospital itself.
Prof Malone has said it is simply “just not safe” for them to lift all restrictions at present.
“In certain parts of the hospital, such as the main waiting room for the emergency department, the main waiting room for the ultrasound department, there just isn’t physically the space to put large numbers of adults sitting together in a confined space – for example, our main ultrasound waiting room has only 12 seats in it,” he said.
“Now, if I have eight or nine mothers sitting there, and suddenly, that’s 16 or 18 adults because they all have a partner with them, in a small room that is not ventilated and not capable of being ventilated, that is a very serious risk.
If they're all filled by patients needing assessment, and I now double that by having their partner with them during that time, it's just not safeProfessor Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital
“It’s the same as the emergency room waiting area – there’s only 10 seats there. And again, if they’re all filled, or most of them are filled by patients needing assessment, and I now double that by having their partner with them during that time, it’s just not safe.”
Prof Malone said the Rotunda currently goes beyond the HSE guidelines, which say partners must be allowed a minimum of 30 minutes of visiting time each day.
“The Rotunda actually gets all of our patients, over five, nearly six hours of visiting each day, and in fact, eight or nine hours on the weekends,” he said.
He added that a new pathway will be in place this week to allow partners to attend early scans, “when people might be particularly anxious or nervous”.
For some months partners have been allowed to attend the anomaly scan at 20 weeks, Prof Malone said, adding that they “always make exceptions” where a patient has received bad news.