The year is 2020 and it is indeed a strange one to come to terms with. In November 2019, reports surfaced in China of a new strain of the little-known coronavirus, termed COVID-19, that was quickly sweeping across the city of Wuhan. Fast forward to June 2020 and we find ourselves in the midst of a terrifying and uncertain global pandemic that has seen over 6 million people infected worldwide, 216 countries infected with the outbreak and sadly, at the time of writing, over 400,000 deaths according to the World Health Organisation’s website, with over 40,000 deaths occurring in the United Kingdom.
Whilst there is 24/7 media coverage of the outbreak, the search for a vaccine, daily death rates and the impact of the virus on the frail and elderly, there is very little news or information on how the pandemic is affecting new-born babies and their mothers, both mentally and physically.
How many babies have been affected by the Coronavirus?
The children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, OBE, released a report on the 7th of May 2020 entitled ‘Lockdown babies: Children born during the coronavirus crisis’. Within her report, she considered that 76,000 babies would have already been born during the lockdown period, which began on the 23rd March 2020 following an announcement from prime minster Boris Johnson. She highlighted the difficulties new mothers were facing, the most serious of which being the limitations pregnant mothers face in having regular checks by healthcare providers and the impact that isolation is having on the mental health of expectant mothers.
The report touched on the mental health struggles of new mothers, with 10% of those being diagnosed with perinatal mental illnesses. When left untreated, these illnesses can have devastating consequences on women and their loved ones. Coupled with the fact that most children’s centres, playgrounds and GP surgeries are off limits, new mothers are having to rely on appointments with healthcare professionals taking place remotely. This can understandably lead to panic and anxiety, especially where there is a lack of physical contact and support from family and friends as the national lockdown continues.
Mothers and babies are suffering from COVID-19
Sadly, the impact of this new reality is that many new parents are struggling to cope with caring for their new-born babies when there is such a lack of support available, both physically and mentally. In some parts of the UK, visits from health care professionals that usually take place 6 weeks after birth are no longer going ahead due to GP surgery closures, healthcare providers being deployed elsewhere within the NHS, and parents refusing to attend as they are frightened of the risks of infection.
Many new parents find these 6 week visits not just comforting, but vital, as they learn how to care for their babies. Access to mental health services is also now restricted, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance reports that if left untreated, these mental illnesses can worsen and become life threatening.
There also exists a real uncertainty when it comes to maternity services in the current climate, with midwife appointments now taking place via telephone or video call. Women are tasked with attending ultrasound scanning appointments alone, without their partners and most post-natal services are unavailable unless absolutely necessary. Whilst these new measures are in place to protect individuals and their loved ones from possibly contracting the coronavirus, birth defects may be going unnoticed and untreated.
What is the impact on new mothers, of access to medical care?
Access to medical care is now extremely restricted; you can no longer just walk into your local A&E or GP surgery if you have any concerns. Expectant mothers are only permitted to attend ultrasound scans, which are months apart with no face to face appointments in between. Sadly, 80% of miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, known as the first trimester. With such restricted access to medical care during the pandemic and the first face to face appointment, the dating scan, normally taking place in the 12th week of a pregnancy, expectant mothers may be at more risk of health concerns and birth defects going unnoticed.
At present, it is too early to tell what the impact, if any, these restrictions will have on expectant mothers. The risk is that birth defects may go unnoticed and expectant mothers are at a greater risk of developing long lasting post-partum depression as they face the prospect of caring for their new-born babies without their regular support network and without face to face contact from a health care professional.
Speak to our personal injury specialists today
If the lack of access to maternal care has caused you or your baby to suffer during your pregnancy, contact our experienced team of solicitors without delay for a free initial consultation. At IBB Claims, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for maternal negligence or any other medical negligence incident.