‘I felt so alone’ - Mums-to-be miss out on key pregnancy checks as hospitals cancel appointments
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Hospitals are cancelling crucial face-to-face checks with pregnant women because of the pandemic. Emily Townsend speaks to mums whose support has been cut at this vital time.
First-time mum Jemma Cook’s pregnancy has been far tougher than she could have imagined.
Like many other expectant mothers, several of her appointments were carried out over the phone, and without regular checks on her blood pressure, she bought her own monitor for reassurance.
While national guidelines recommend some appointments happen remotely during Covid-19, women are supposed to have at least six in-person visits before giving birth. Guidelines also advise extra appointments for new mothers.
But some mums we spoke to in Suffolk received half that amount.
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‘Strange and isolating’
Now anxiously awaiting the arrival of her first child, 36-year-old Jemma from Ipswich said a lack of face-to-face support left her feeling “lonely”, adding she often consulted Google and WhatsApp groups.
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“It hasn’t been the experience I’d imagined. It’s actually been really strange and isolating,” she said.
Her booking appointment, where women are offered advice and the choice of screening for certain medical conditions, happened around nine weeks into her pregnancy. The next day the country went into lockdown.
“I then didn’t have anything face-to-face midwife wise until about a couple of months ago - because I was in the last stages of pregnancy, I needed to have blood pressure checks,” she added.
“It reassures you when you’ve got that face-to-face contact, and without having it, it’s like ‘am I doing everything right’, is everything happening that’s meant to be happening?”
MORE: Hospital encourages patients to go online to access careIpswich Hospital insisted that as per national guidance, all pregnant people receive a minimum of six face-to-face antenatal appointments. Bosses say that this has continued throughout Covid-19.
But first-time mum Faye Dickson, also from Ipswich, says she had just three in-person appointments before giving birth to daughter Taylor Rose in August.
“My 24-week midwife appointment was cancelled and put over the phone,” she said.
“That was a bit scary because you’re supposed to be having blood tests, testing urine for protein for pre-eclampsia, blood pressure, none of that got done. The call was just ‘hi, how are you, are you ok, bye’. That’s all it was.
The 27-year-old, whose pregnancy was deemed at higher risk due to her daughter being a carrier of hereditary blood disease haemophilia, added: “All through lockdown, I felt so alone.
“When I was 24 weeks, I couldn’t feel her moving. I rang up the hospital, you could hear how busy they were. They sounded really under pressure but I felt pushed back – being a first-time mum, I was just worried because I couldn’t feel my daughter moving.”
Nikki Hutchinson, who gave birth to her third child Kole in September, said she only saw her midwife once, at eight weeks. After that, she said, all contact with the midwife was by phone.
The 31-year-old, from Grundisburgh, said she saw a healthcare assistant instead when visiting her consultant for scans.
“This time around it was a completely different experience, it made me quite anxious that there was no constant care from the midwife,” she said. “It was by far my hardest pregnancy out of the three.
MORE: ‘I was once a healthy mum… now my body is attacking itself from the inside’ - the effects of long-term covid“If you were worried about something, you had a phone number to call or text, but if you did you didn’t get a reply, it was difficult.”
An Ipswich Hospital spokesman said that if appointments need to be cancelled for any reason they would be re-booked.
They added that if an expectant parent had any concerns about their health or the health of their baby, they should contact their midwife.
Director of midwifery, Dr Anna Shasha, said: “The experience of our new parents is incredibly important to us.
“Anyone who is pregnant and has concerns about their health or the health of their baby should get in touch with us – our services are open and your safety is always our priority.”
Steph Asquith-Turner, from Bury St Edmunds, had her son Xavier at West Suffolk Hospital.
The 27-year-old’s pregnancy was high-risk and she had suffered four miscarriages before it.
“It was absolutely horrible, this pregnancy had a lot of complications,” she said.
“Every consultant appointment bar one at Newmarket Hospital, was done over the phone.”
Other than the Newmarket appointment, she said only her scans were carried out face-to-face.
The mum added: “I had a planned c-section and all the discussions about that were also done by phone.”
West Suffolk Hospital chiefs say they aim to offer at least seven face-to-face contacts before birth, adding that this has continued throughout Covid-19.
But they said this can vary depending on individual circumstances.
Virtual appointments are used for the initial booking, bosses added, and for some consultant appointments.
Karen Newbury, head of midwifery, said: “We know how much mothers value face-to-face contact and we are doing everything we can to maximise that, while keeping everybody safe.
“The majority of our appointments throughout this pandemic have been face-to-face.
“Partners and mothers can always contact their midwife if they have any questions or need additional care.”
Emma Hald, from Halesworth, gave birth to her second child Millie, at the James Paget Hospital in June.
“All my antenatal appointments were when they should have been and face-to-face with my midwives,” she said.
“My 12 and 20 scans were just before Covid kicked off but I had several growth scans towards the end of my pregnancy which went ahead with no problems.”
But the 31-year-old said she had heard of friends experiencing cancellations elsewhere.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said all women are offered at least six in-person antenatal appointments, mostly more.
Jo Mountfield, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Unfortunately, with rising coronavirus cases across the UK, there is an increasing pressure on services with staff who need to self-isolate and this may lead to a variation in the provision of face-to-face care.”
-Maternity helplines are available at Ipswich Hospital on 01473 702666 and Colchester Hospital on 01206 742369.
• What do the guidelines recommend?
According to national guidelines, pregnant women are meant to have at least six appointments in person during coronavirus.
These are the booking appointment, which the Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians say can be combined with the dating scan in the early stages of pregnancy; the 18 to 20-week anomaly scan; 28-week appointment with urine and blood pressure checks plus foetal movement; and four visits every fortnight between 32 and 40 weeks.
Remaining appointments – including the 16-week screening review for all women; 25-week visit with blood pressure and urine check for first-time mums and 31-week check-up also for first-time mums can be virtual if necessary.
“Guidance from the RCOG states that women should receive the full recommended schedule of antenatal care wherever possible, and that these appointments should be offered in-person especially those from BAME communities and women living with medical, social or psychological issues,” Ms Mountfield added.
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