28 February 2023

Pregnancy and baby charities told the UK Covid-19 inquiry how all aspects of pregnancy, maternity, neonatal and postnatal care were dramatically disrupted during the pandemic.

The inquiry heard how this contributed to the avoidable suffering experienced by thousands of pregnant women and birthing people, new and expectant parents and babies.

Antenatal and postnatal care were included as specific areas to be covered in the inquiry’s Terms of Reference. At the first Module 3 preliminary hearing on 28 February, Adam Wagner, instructed by Slater and Gordon, represented the 13 organisations that were announced collectively as a core participant. He told the inquiry how blanket policies implemented at the start of the pandemic had devastating effects on many thousands of families during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby or babies.

The inquiry heard how disruption to services led to pregnant women and birthing people attending clinics, scans and hospital appointments alone, with many receiving the devastating news that their baby or babies had a serious condition, had died or that their pregnancy had ended, without their partner or anyone else with them for support.

Choice around place of birth was also restricted, with services being suspended during intrapartum care, and postnatal support was significantly reduced, impacting mental health and infant feeding services particularly. Sick babies in neonatal care were separated from their parents, and some families experienced the devastation of being unable to be with their babies until they were receiving end-of-life care.

Nothing could have prepared the families and babies we support for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

Jenny Ward, speaking on behalf of the group, said: "Our charities supported thousands of people during the pandemic, and heard countless stories of how the health, safety and wellbeing of expectant parents and their babies were compromised repeatedly. We’ve also worked with frontline health professionals who feel they were not adequately supported throughout this time, and whose training needs were not fully addressed.

"While the UK Covid-19 inquiry has committed to examining the impact of the pandemic on antenatal and postnatal care as part of its overall scope, it has not yet set out that it will be examined specifically within Module 3, which focuses on healthcare. We have urged the inquiry to ensure this is explicitly included in this module. With so many affected by the changes to services, it is vital that the inquiry dedicates adequate time to hearing the voices of parents and expectant parents, to reflect what they and their babies lived through.

"Nothing could have prepared the families and babies we support for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What we do know is that decisions made during this time contributed to the stress, pain and harm which was experienced at a time when life already felt like it was turned upside down.

"While as individual organisations we support babies and families at all different stages of their pregnancy, birth and early childhood journey, we are united in our determination to ensure important lessons are learned so that policies implemented in future explicitly consider the full impact on new and expectant parents and their babies."

Shauna Leven, Chief Executive of Twins Trust, said: "It’s so important that the families of multiples have their voices heard in the inquiry.

"Our multiples’ community was hugely affected during the pandemic. Whether it was during pregnancy, birth or after their babies were born, every family felt the impact of the ever-changing restrictions on their parenting journey.

"Now is the time for their stories to be told and to make sure the right support is in place for the future."

The 13 pregnancy and baby charities granted core participant status in the inquiry are: Aching Arms, Baby Lifeline, Bliss, The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, Group B Strep Support, ICP Support, The Lullaby Trust, Miscarriage Association, NCT (National Childbirth Trust), Pelvic Partnership, Pregnancy Sickness Support, Tommy’s and Twins Trust.