NHS England Guidance tells hospitals to ''facilitate parental access at all times of day’’ in neonatal services

Posted on December 15, 2020

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An update to Guidance from NHS England on supporting women using maternity services during COVID-19 has included recommendations for neonatal services for the first time.

Supporting pregnant women using maternity services during the coronavirus pandemic: Actions for NHS providers (14 December 2020) states clearly that “Parents of babies in neonatal critical care also need to be involved in their baby’s care as much as possible. Integral to this is ensuring parents have access to their baby...Parents are partners in care and should not be considered to be visitors”.

Since the start of the pandemic, Bliss has been highlighting the impact of restricted parental access to neonatal units through its Parents Aren’t Visitors campaign, and has been calling for a national directive to support a return to unrestricted access for parents with babies in neonatal care. This new guidance is a step towards a more consistent approach to parent access and sends a strong message to NHS Trusts that parents must be supported to be partners in delivering their baby’s neonatal care.

Across all maternity and neonatal settings, NHS Trusts are being asked to take three actions which will support a step towards unrestricted access for parents in neonatal settings, as well as the presence of partners during antenatal, labour and post-natal care:

  • To carry out risk assessments to work out if there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission by having parents or support people present
  • To change the layout of the unit or use the available space in a different way to address issues highlighted in the risk assessment, while also putting in place other infection control measures.
  • To use regular testing to reduce infection risk.

For neonatal services, Trusts are being asked to test parents routinely and for parents who test negative to be supported to have access to their baby at any time of day.

Caroline Lee-Davey, Bliss Chief Executive said: "This guidance is a welcome and positive step towards achieving a consistent approach to parent access on neonatal units which will allow parents to be right where they need to be – by their baby’s side.

"Bliss has been outspoken throughout the pandemic that Parents Aren’t Visitors, and that supporting parents to be partners in delivering hands-on care to their baby is essential for premature and sick babies to have the very best outcomes, as well as supporting the well-being of the whole family. Parents have told Bliss that restrictions to access have been devastating, with 70% reporting a negative impact on their mental health and 90% feeling more isolated.

"It is also vital that extra support remains in place to enable any parents who are self-isolating to be as involved in the care and decision making for their baby as possible, and that services continue to follow RCPCH and BAPM guidance to allow parents to be with their baby – even if they are COVID-19 positive – if their baby is critically ill or receiving palliative care.

"We are grateful to all the parents, health professionals and supporters who have joined Bliss’ campaign to secure this vital new guidance, and would now urge NHS Trusts to work closely with their neonatal teams to review their current parental access policies as a matter of urgency to ensure they are supporting as much parental presence as possible."