Families and fathers’ charities have hit back at claims that partners’ overnight stays in maternity ward at one of Scotland’s biggest health board is compromising patient care.
It comes after midwives at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary complained to NHS Lothian chiefs that partners of new mothers staying overnight is putting strain on staff as they claim fathers treat the ward “like a hotel”.
The complaints have led to a backlash from families furious that fathers are being blamed as they claim problems with poor facilities and a lack of staff support for the changes are not being addressed.
The move to encourage fathers to stay overnight in maternity wards is being brought in across health boards in line with Scottish Government guidance on making neonatal and maternity care more inclusive of fathers under the Best Start policy.
Fathers Network Scotland (FNS) Programme lead Chris Miezitis said: “Families deserve to have the choice.
“We can’t exclude fathers at a time when their partners and babies needed them most.
“Hospitals have shown they can make it work. The positive impacts for parents are huge.
“Some concerns raised by ERI staff are legitimate but some seem to be a storm in a teacup. So if an exhausted dad gets a bite to eat in the kitchen so he can be a much-needed support to his baby and partner, what’s the problem? We need to see hurdles we can get over not treat these issues like huge barriers.”
FNS provides training to health services to make services more father-friendly, under Scottish Government funded pilot scheme How Are You Dad?
As part of their research, FNS found mothers rate the support of their partner more than that of health staff. It also found when maternity units brought in overnight facilities for fathers after the birth, complaints from mums plummeted and midwives were freed up to provide direct care.
Mr Miezitis added: “We found on average a new mum will buzz a midwife up to 15 times in a day but with dad there overnight that drops to around four or five times.”
Senior staff at Scotland’s first father-friendly maternity ward backed calls for overnight stays to be the norm, after finding complaints from mothers dropped when they piloted the scheme.
Since Ninewells in Dundee introduced overnight stays for fathers two years ago, more than 200 have stayed in the maternity ward.
Donna Brough, midwifery team manager, initiated the changes after hearing from mothers that they wanted support from their partners.
Fathers currently sleep in plastic chairs in the ward but the team recently secured funding to buy 85 recliner chairs.
“We have ground rules for partners and that has helped address concerns. We have had to iron out issues but things are moving forward. More families say it’s what they want now. Helping mums feel supported and dads feel confident from the start is so important for all the family.”
Thomas Lynch, Service Manager for Dads’ Rock said: “Staff have a lot on their plate but parents must be heard and families tell us they generally want dads there. We need measures in place to make it happen. Having Dads left standing in corridors or sleeping on floors, sometimes not knowing if their baby or wife are even alive. We must do better.”
NHS Lothian confirmed they were implementing the Scottish Government Best Start policy.
When Janice Strachan’s daughter Penelope was born she didn’t feel she got the support she needed. Mum-of-two Janice, 42, suffers from impaired mobility due to a condition that causes chronic pelvic pain.
While pregnant with four-year-old Penelope it was so severe Janice, from East Lothian, was signed off work at four months and almost wheelchair bound.
Penelope was born at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before dads were able to stay overnight. She said, “My husband was told he had to go, leaving me alone and struggling. I couldn’t get to the toilet without crutches. I couldn’t lift my baby onto my bed without help. I didn’t feel comfortable asking for nurses help as I could see how busy they were, just run off their feet.
“I remember pressing the buzzer once and waiting 20 minutes before someone came. It ended up begging to go home that day. I was sore and utterly miserable. It was the same with my first daughter Annabel. If I had hubby there it would have made all the difference. I was so vulnerable and weepy and felt I needed hubby there to help keep me straight. Hospitals need to find a way to make this work with what we’ve got so dads can be there when it’s what families need.”