Seven out of 10 midwives have been abused by pregnant women, their partners and families due to changes to attendance rules during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey.
Changes have been introduced in most maternity services to reduce the risk to women, their babies and staff of COVID-19 in maternity units and hospitals.
However, the research by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) found the changes, including simple requests for partners to wear a mask, have led to confrontation and abuse.
Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director for professional leadership at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Now more than ever, keeping everyone safe has to be a priority.
“That applies to pregnant women, their babies and, of course, the maternity staff taking care of them.
“We understand how upsetting it can be not to have your partner or support person with you for appointments, but there is no excuse for abusing midwives and their colleagues.”
Midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have reported a catalogue of abuse, very often from partners.
A major concern is visitors refusing to wear masks when inside the maternity unit.
Others have become abusive when, during labour, they are told they cannot leave the unit for a cigarette.
In one instance, a midwife reported that a birth partner jumped over a security gate so he could leave the unit.
Another midwife said: “Women feel we are robbing them of the maternity care they want.
“No matter how much we try to explain, some women and families can be incredibly verbally abusive. This is soul-destroying. We are trying our best, but not everyone sees that.”
There have been some positive outcomes of fewer visitors to maternity wards.
Over two-thirds (68%) of RCM members said it improved rest and recuperation for women, with a similar number (62%) citing an improvement in bonding between mother and baby.
The survey of 1,400 UK midwives was conducted online from 28 October to 8 November 2020.