New rules restricting visits to maternity units in East Suffolk and north Essex have been put in place due to a rise in positive coronavirus tests among pregnant people.

The East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has announced that from January 8, only one named birthing partner may accompany someone in labour from the point of their admissions to the maternity unit.

This birthing partner must not be positive for Covid-19, or have any symptoms.

Expectant parents are advised to have a backup birthing partner on standby, in case their preferred partner tests positive.

Bosses at the trust say all patients and visitors should take a lateral flow test before attending any appointments with maternity services.

Visiting hours on antenatal and postnatal wards will be limited to between 10:30am and 6:30pm, and will be restricted to the birthing partner.

In addition, outside of labour, patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 cannot receive visitors on the antenatal and postnatal wards.

These changes apply to all NHS hospitals in Colchester, Ipswich, Clacton, Halstead, Harwich, Felixstowe and Aldeburgh.

Giles Thorpe, chief nurse and director of Infection Prevention and Control at ESNEFT, said: “We’re making the very difficult decision to restrict some visiting in our maternity units due to the high number of Covid-19 infections in the community and the increasing number of pregnant people with the virus in our hospitals.

“Covid-19 is also having a significant impact on staffing in maternity and making these changes will mean we can continue to provide high quality, safe care to pregnant people and their babies.

“This isn’t what we want to do, but it is what have to do so we can continue to keep everyone safe in our hospitals.

“We will be keeping this situation under close and regular review, and we will ease the restrictions as quickly and as safely as possible. However, we can’t rule out that further restrictions may be needed if infections and hospital admissions continue to rise.

“The situation we are facing reiterates the importance of getting vaccinated against the virus and I would urge anyone who is expecting a baby, or planning to have a baby, to take up the offer of a Covid-19 vaccine.

"It is the best way to prevent you from becoming seriously unwell and needing hospital treatment and it will help to keep you and your baby safe during your pregnancy.”