WOMEN giving birth at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have felt more isolated than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, a survey suggests.

The National Childbirth Trust said the removal of support from partners or family members as a result of Covid-19 restrictions caused extreme anxiety and fear for expectant mothers.

The Care Quality Commission polled 23,000 women aged 16 and over across England who gave birth in February 2021 on their experience of maternity services – including 185 at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Patients were asked a range of questions and gave a score between 0 – indicating a very negative experience – and 10, representing the best possible result.

When asked if their partner or someone else was able to stay with them as much as they wanted, mothers gave East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust an average score of just 3.2 out of 10.

This was down from 8.9 in 2019 – the last time the survey was held – and the lowest figure since it began in 2015.

Across England as a whole, a score of 3.5 was awarded for the same question, compared to 7.5 two years earlier.

Just 34 per cent of women said their partner was able to be with them as much as they wished – down significantly from 74 per cent two years earlier, and the lowest proportion on record.

Tracy Thompson, Head of Midwifery at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "At ELHT our aim is to achieve an exceptional birthing experience for mothers and families.

"The pandemic has resulted in the application of difficult restrictions for some of these experiences. All birth choices remained a key priority and were available throughout the pandemic.

"The Trust has followed all Government advice and guidelines throughout the pandemic whilst ensuring that patient safety was at the heart of everything we do.

"We acknowledge these restrictions will have impacted​ on the personalised  care plan of the birth journey, this is extremely regrettable, but essential in such circumstances. 

"This snapshot of mother's and families' experiences within our maternity services offers us an opportunity to review our strengths and areas for improvement, at the same time, we fully recognise and acknowledge the exceptions highlighted.

"Collaborative working with our colleagues and partners will ensure we continue to provide the very best maternity services for our local communities in line with the safety measures required."

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the NCT, said: "The impact of the removal of this support and advocacy can be immense.

"We have heard reports of women experiencing extreme anxiety, fear and isolation as a result."

Just 61 per cent of women nationally said they saw or spoke to a midwife as much as they wanted during the postnatal period, which Ms Duff said is an area of great concern.

She added: "This is an exceptionally vulnerable time for mothers and babies, so this lack of access to help risked real danger to both at a time when support from family and friends was more restricted too due to lockdowns."

Mothers gave East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust a score of 5.7 out of 10 for how much they saw or spoke to a midwife, and 8.6 for whether they received the help needed from a midwifery team.

Meanwhile, the trust was given a score of ​9.4 for its mental health support.

Despite restrictions in place, almost all of the women polled across England said they were treated with respect and dignity, and that they had confidence and trust in staff.

The Royal College of Midwives praised the hard work of midwives under "immense pressure", but said severe staff shortages meant one in five women were not offered a choice of where to have their baby.

Birte Harlev-lam, executive director midwife at the RCM, welcomed the Government’s commitment to recruit midwives but warned England desperately needs thousands more.

She added: "If the shortage is not urgently addressed and prioritised, our maternity services will continue to struggle to support women.

"More midwives mean women will get the care, time and support they truly deserve.”

The Department for Health and Social Care said the number of NHS midwives has increased by more than 12 per cent since 2010 and it is aiming to hire an additional 1,200.