Leading health organisations have written to Health Minister Nadine Dorries calling for England’s NHS maternity service buildings to be improved, specifically for better design and use of space, such as having single rooms and dedicated areas for maternity clinics and scans.
Women’s maternity care was significantly impacted during the pandemic, made worse by old, poorly designed buildings, according to the One Voice coalition of health organisations and the Society of Radiographers. Many women were unable to have their partners with them because the layout of maternity facilities prevented social distancing, and would have put women, their partners and other service users at risk of catching the virus.
Some maternity units benefit from antenatal and postnatal wards largely with single rooms and have dedicated waiting areas for clinics and scans. This has made it possible to accommodate visitors and supporters because the risks of infection from exposure to other patients or from a lack of social distancing are minimised.
Unfortunately, many other maternity services have a limited footprint, with narrow corridors, waiting areas sometimes shared with vulnerable patients for other specialties and some women having to stay in four or six-bedded bays for antenatal and postnatal care.
Gill Walton, Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Chief Executive and Co-chair of One Voice, said:
Many women suffered significant distress during the pandemic because they could not have partners with them. Something as simple as a well-designed building can make a huge difference to the experiences of women and their families using maternity services. As the pandemic also showed, it was often the difference between a woman having a partner or friend with her at appointments and being alone. We have had a significant injection of money into England’s maternity services to increase staffing levels and support better training. We now need a similar commitment to improve the buildings these services are in.
Many of the buildings used are old and in need of repair. They are simply not fit for purpose. We must learn the lessons of the past year and ensure maternity services have the right building and conditions in which to deliver the safest and best possible care for women, their families and for staff.
One Voice is a coalition of health organisations representing the views of women, families and maternity staff. Its members are the Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, NCT, Sands, the Institute of Health Visiting and the Association of Anaesthetists.