Restrictions on partner visits to maternity services are now having an impact on mental health services, according to a leading consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.
Dr Mary McCaffrey says the focus to date is on the scans and other appointments being missed, but there are other implications on curtailing partner visits.
It comes as some Irish maternity hospitals are still restricting access to some services for partners and husbands, amid COVID-19 concerns.
The HSE has issued guidance to all hospitals around when partners should be allowed in, but not all have been fully compliant with the guidelines.
Many women and their partners - including some who've experienced miscarriages over the last year - have spoken publicly about the impact the restrictions have had.
Dr McCaffrey - who is also a former president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association - told The Hard Shoulder it's not just the restrictions on the partner visits themselves that are causing problems.
She said: “As the restrictions continue, the impact of the anxiety that has developed is now trickling out into mental health services.
“I spoke to a psychotherapist at the weekend - he [noted] the number of male clients he’s now getting with anxiety over all of what they’ve been through. Some of them have PTSD."
Dr McCaffrey also said the restrictions also aren't just about scans, noting many women's early contacts with midwives are now happening over the phone instead of in person.
She said: "We can't even see who is in the room answering the questions we ask about domestic violence and mental health issues.
"And yet we know domestic violence has gone up during COVID."
She believes officials - including public health doctors - now need to sit down and figure out what the solution is when it comes to easing restrictions.
She observed: “We hear infrastructure is the problem - it would be nice if we could find out if the estates and planning part of the HSE could come and see if there’s anything different we could do within the maternity units to make the infrastructure safer.
“Should we be looking at how we can spread out the women in the wards, so there is social distancing so that partners can be in? In our hospital, we probably have space to do that… but maybe the bigger ones don’t.
“The other thing is again down to staffing and resources. If when partners come with their pregnant partner to a maternity unit… if there could be faster turnaround of their PCR test, so they might only be waiting 30 mins or an hour. This would take more staff and lab staff and resources… I don’t know if that’s possible.”
'Things could have been explained better'
Dr McCaffrey says there was some confusion in the early stages of the pandemic about the rules as the situation was changing so rapidly.
However, she believes there have since been issues with how information about the restrictions is being communicated.
She said: “I think maybe in retrospect a lot of stuff could have been explained better to the public and to women.”
Dr McCaffreey says there are single rooms available to let partners be present for scans and active labour at the hospital she's based in in Tralee.
However, she also experienced "anomalies" when it comes to the rules being implemented.
She said: "It is a bit crazy. A few weeks ago, I found guys out in a waiting room when I could have desperately used them for translation in the room with their wives.
"I couldn’t figure out how they got to the waiting room but didn’t get the next step.”