For Whom This Bell Tolls

Image of candlePity for whom this bell tolls.

By Ruth Weston

In recent weeks I have found myself getting involved in a controversy in some of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust Maternity groups.

Mothers, birth workers and midwives were raising concerns about the policy of preventing partners from attending scans. While scans are often thought of as being a welcome chance to see the baby, their purpose is to look for possible problems. In around one in twenty scans something of concern may be found and women are being forced to hear information that their baby may not be completely healthy without anyone to support them. Partners are being completely excluded from this information at this time, and from the opportunity of asking questions themselves, about their own child.

Sometimes, it is found that the baby has died. One cannot imagine the suffering of a women forced to be separate from her most loved and trusted ones at the point of learning her child is dead. 

Despite restrictions on visiting being lifted, women are prevented from even taking their partners into scans via video call. A number of women have picked up the issue and have been pushing hard for change.  This particularly came to a head when the Trust put out an infographic on what was allowed and not and why.  “Medico-legal” reasons were cited as the reason for not allowing video calls at a scan – so we asked what these medico legal reasons are.  Three weeks later, we still have no answer. I can think of medico reasons aplenty why women very much should have video calling and indeed recording at a scan and antenatal appointment – I cannot think of any good and honest ones that should stop a woman having that support and protection.

The infographic also explained there was a time issue with having a partner – even remotely – attending the scan – for health and safety reasons in the small scan room staff wanted to limit the time with each woman, and an extra five minutes was too much.  Why are five extra minutes needed to tell a partner the same thing as the woman? If there was a video call during the consultation, no additional time would be needed. As yet, we still have no answer.

I pointed out that if a staff member increased their theoretical risk by spending five minutes more with each woman, then they would see fewer people per day, thus reducing their theoretical risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19.  That argument could be played both ways.

Then there was the old chestnut – the video call would distract the staff member from their important work. My response? Tell everyone to be quiet, like you would if they were in the room, and when the scan is done go ahead and ask questions as normal!

A birth worker shared a woman’s post of her experience of being told her baby was dead at a scan – alone and without her partner.  And then things fired up.  Because the question is not about the “medico-legal” issues, or “health and safety”.  The question is whether we as a health service, we as staff members, have compassion for the women and families in our care.  The question is whether we are kind.  If we are kind and compassionate then we will look at what must happen and then find ways to make the service humane.  I look at what is happening here and see systems justifying themselves in negligent cruelty to women. That cruelty is the outcome of decisions not  intended in themselves to be cruel but which are made without compassion being central to the decision making.

We are told that our concerns have been raised with the staff on a number of occasions, we are told that our representations have been made strongly, but three, four weeks later there is still silence.  And that silence clangs loudly like a warning bell of a self-supporting system that acts without compassion.  In such a system kind people can be cruel, and courageous people can be crushed.  I pity those for whom this bell tolls.