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Maternity restrictions still in place despite agreement they should end



Restrictions within maternity care are still in place in some hospitals, despite the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the chief medical officer all agreeing they should end.

According to maternity care campaigners, some hospitals are still not allowing partners to stay with expectant mothers for the full duration of labour.

Instead, partners are permitted only when the woman is in “active labour”, dilated a certain number of centimetres, or has their own room.

Other hospitals are not facilitating partner visits after the birth.

Guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in relation to maternity units was updated on Friday, June 11th.

“An accompanying person [partner] should generally be facilitated in accompanying a woman throughout the process of labour and childbirth during the time the woman is in the labour ward,” it said.

“Before moving to the labour ward, in particular when the woman is in a multibed area, access for an accompanying person may be limited by the requirement to respect the needs of other patients for rest and privacy.”

This addition is new, with the previous version only stating that a partner should be able to accompany a woman “throughout the process” of labour and childbirth, whether spontaneous or induced.

This guidance also stated that maternity services should allow a minimum 30-minute daily visit from partners, and partners should also be allowed to attend the 20-week scan and visit their baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU).

The guidance added that any restrictions on the above should be based on a documented risk assessment that is reviewed regularly.

‘Passing the buck’

Krysia Lynch, chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services in Ireland, said it appears that most hospitals are allowing partners to attend the neonatal ICU and 20-week anatomy scans.

However, she said the updated guidance published on Friday is “passing the buck” with regards to allowing partners to be present in early labour.

“It says partner access may be limited by the ‘requirement to respect the needs of other patients for rest and privacy’. Who decides that one person gets to override everyone else’s needs and wishes?”

She added that it is “curious” that the guidance says partner access can be limited by other people on the ward, as opposed to Covid-19 infection control measures. “This line focuses on privacy and respect, not Covid.”

Up to 200 women who gave birth in the past three weeks have contacted the association, Ms Lynch said. “Their experience has been the same as the people who gave birth in the three weeks before that. People are so angry.”

She maintained that women should have a partner to accompany them in the early stages of labour: “They are entering the hospitals in labour on their own, and their partners are called up when the hospital sees fit. They could be on their own for hours.”

Ms Lynch said it is critical for women to have support in early labour, as they often don’t have access to pain relief or a one-on-one midwife.

She said gyms, cinemas, restaurants and pubs are now open, but partners are still restricted when trying to support their pregnant loved one. “There are people who are delaying going to hospital so they can be with their partner for as much of labour as possible.”

Maternity rights campaigner Linda Kelly from Cork, who gave birth during the first wave of the pandemic, said she can’t understand why the restrictions are still in place when the majority of healthcare staff are vaccinated, as are a growing number of pregnant people and their partners.

“Women have contacted hospitals saying their partner is fully vaccinated, but they still can’t attend all of their appointments, there’s no rationale for this.

“It’s been very distressing for people. They thought restrictions would be lifted in their totality.”

‘Infrastructural challenges’

East hospitals

In a statement, the Ireland East Hospital Group said with the exception of the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street, their three regional maternity units are part of a general hospital campus.

“These hospitals have specific infrastructural challenges where social distancing cannot be sufficiently met within the Covid guidelines while facilitating partners to attend with the maternity patients.”

In Mullingar, Wexford and St Luke’s in Kilkenny, partners can attend “active labour” and theatre for scheduled caesarean sections.

Wexford General Hospital and St Luke’s General Hospital are not allowing partners to visit after the birth.

Holles Street and Regional Hospital Mullingar are allowing pre- and post-birth visits.

South/Southwest hospitals

A representative for South/Southwest Hospital Group said that once a woman is transferred to a single space for induction or dilation, their partner is welcome to accompany them.

“Induction can take up to 2-3 days, normally in shared spaces, ie in four-bedded wards, so it was never the practice in our maternity hospital that a partner would stay for the entirety of this process.

“Partners ordinarily would be asked to leave at 10pm to allow for sleep and rest for the patients.”

Unlike Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), the representative said, hospitals in Waterford, Kerry and Tipperary have to navigate “many factors” when it comes to visiting restrictions as they are general hospitals.

CUMH is allowing visits to inpatients.

On the Health Service Executive’s website, it does not say whether post-birth visits are being facilitated at the three general hospitals.

Portlaoise hospital

In the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise partners can attend the birth, once the woman is in labour and admitted to the delivery suite. This includes when the woman is induced in the delivery suite.

Partners can also be present in theatre at caesarean sections and at the booking scan.

“The hospital has reintroduced scheduled visiting to the maternity ward for antenatal and postnatal women, which is arranged by appointment [and usually lasts an hour],” a representative said.

Coombe hospital

Meanwhile, in the Coombe, partners can attend the labour ward when the woman is in established labour (1cm dilated), and they can attend the theatre for a caesarean section.

Partners can also attend early pregnancy assessment unit appointments, as well as dating and anatomy scans.

Designated partners may also visit the wards daily during certain times.

UL hospitals

University of Limerick Hospitals Group said that nominated partners get 45-minute visiting slots on the hospital’s postnatal wards, between the hours of 6pm and 8pm daily.

“Birthing partners will also continue to be supported in attending the labour ward and theatre.”

RCSI hospitals

When the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) hospital group (which includes Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Cavan General Hospital and the Rotunda) was asked what restrictions were in place at their maternity units and hospitals, it said: “National guidance is being adhered to by all maternity sites in the RCSI Hospital Group.”

According to the Rotunda’s website, if the woman is induced, partners will be able to join them only when active labour is established and she has been moved to a single-occupancy room.

Visits are being facilitated in all of these hospitals.

Saolta hospitals (west)

Saolta University healthcare group, which comprises University Hospital Galway, along with maternity units in the Sligo, Letterkenny, Mayo and Portiuncula hospitals, said their maternity units are facilitating access for birthing partners in line with recent national guidance on visiting restrictions, published on June 11th.

According to the HSE website, partners of women attending University Hospital Galway may attend for the birth once the woman is admitted into a single room on the labour ward, and partners can attend a caesarean section.

In Mayo, partners are allowed to attend with mothers in labour, but they must leave the maternity department when the mother is transferred to the maternity ward.

In the other hospitals in this region, partners can accompany the pregnant person while in labour, but the HSE website doesn’t give specific details.

Inpatient visits are being facilitated in all of these hospitals.

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Real Estate

UK property prices are 30% higher than they were in 2007, Zoopla says



Average property prices across Britain are now 30 per cent higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, before the global financial crash.

Buyers are paying an average of £230,700 for a home, which is the highest on record, according to property portal Zoopla’s latest house price index.

House prices grew by 5.4 per cent in the year to June, but experts at Zoopla said they could start falling as the year draws to an end and the stamp duty holiday and furlough scheme are scrapped.

Price shifts: Average property prices across Britain are now 30% higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, according to data from Zoopla

Price shifts: Average property prices across Britain are now 30% higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, according to data from Zoopla

While the stamp duty holiday and cheap mortgage deals have given the property market a boost, a severe shortage in stock has also been pushing up prices. 

The number of properties up for sale was around a quarter lower in the first six months of this year than it was at the same point a year ago, Zoopla said.

The stock shortage problem has been exacerbated by a rise in the number of first-time buyers coming to the market, who, of course, have no property to sell.  

Getting more space remains a big draw for many prospective buyers, with demand for houses twice as high as the 2017-19 average, while the popularity of flats has waned. 

Northern Ireland and Wales saw the biggest spike in property prices in the past year, with rises of 8.6 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively. 

For Wales, this represents the highest rate of annual growth for 16 years, with many areas becoming increasingly popular with relocators and second home owners.

Demand for houses has pushed their price tags up, especially in Wales which proved popular with relocators and second home owners

Demand for houses has pushed their price tags up, especially in Wales which proved popular with relocators and second home owners 

Stock matters: The number of homes being put up for sale has failed to keep up with demand

Stock matters: The number of homes being put up for sale has failed to keep up with demand

This was despite the fact that the Welsh land transaction tax holiday, its equivalent of the stamp duty break, did not apply to second home or buy-to-let purchases.

In Wales and England, buyers could save up to £15,000 in tax on house purchases until 30 June. In England, they can still save up to £2,500 until 30 September. 

At a regional level, house price growth was at its highest in the North West (+7.3 per cent) and Yorkshire & the Humber (+6.8 per cent), while London trailed behind with annual house price growth of +2.3 per cent.  

Demand in London is polarised between inner and outer, with demand in outer London running 86 per cent ahead of the 2017-19 average. 

‘This is explained in part by the available housing stock – with larger volumes of houses and properties with outside space’, Zoopla said.

In contrast, demand in inner London is running just 2 per cent above the ‘normal’ market average. 

This is also reflected in the pricing of properties, with London flats, predominantly clustered towards the centre, dipping by 0.5 per cent in the year to June. In contrast, houses have registered growth of 5.6 per cent in the past year. 

Looking at other major cities, Liverpool has performed well as house prices grew by 8.9 per cent in the past year. 

Rochdale, Bolton and Hastings all saw property prices increase over 9 per cent during the period, while Belfast, Manchester and Sheffield saw prices rise more than 7 per cent. 

Sales levels up and down the country are running about 22 per cent higher than they were last year, but buyer demand slipped 9 per cent in the first half of July after the initial phase of the stamp duty holiday ended. 

However, transaction volumes are still around 80 per cent higher than they would normally be at this time of year. 

Your area: A map showing how house prices have been changing up and down Britain

Your area: A map showing how house prices have been changing up and down Britain

Grainne Gilmore, head of research at Zoopla, said: ‘Demand is moderating from record high levels earlier this year, but remains significantly up from typical levels, signalling that above average activity levels will continue in the coming months.

‘Demand for houses is still outstripping demand for flats. To a certain extent this trend will have been augmented by the stamp duty holiday, with bigger savings on offer for larger properties – typically houses. 

‘But underneath this, there is a continued drumbeat of demand for more space among buyers, both inside and outside, funnelling demand towards houses, resulting in stronger price growth for these properties.’

She added: ‘Overall buyer demand coupled with constrained supply signal that price growth will continue to rise in the coming months, peaking at around 6 per cent, before falling back to between 4 per cent to 5 per cent by the end of 2021.’ 

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EU pauses legal action against UK over Northern Ireland protocol



The European Commission has paused legal proceedings against the United Kingdom over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the hope that solutions can be found.

It comes after the UK government called for a “standstill period” in which the EU would not further legal action and the UK would also refrain from unilateral moves.

A European Commission spokesman said in a statement that “in order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March”.

Last week the UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, told the House of Commons there should be a “significant change” in the protocol and that “we cannot go on as we are”.

The commission said the pause in the legal action would be used to consider the UK’s proposals.

“We confirm our readiness to continue to engage with the United Kingdom, also on the suggestions made in the Command Paper, and to consider any proposals that respect the principles of the protocol,” the statement from the commission added.

The Irish Government has also said it will carefully consider the British proposals, which include suggestions that were raised and discussed during the negotiation process.

“We have received a constructive reply from the Commission in response to our request for a standstill on existing arrangements,” a British government spokeswoman said. “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead to progress the proposals in our command paper.

“As we set out in the Command Paper last week, significant changes are needed to ensure the Pprotocol is sustainable for future”

Last week, Mr Frost suggested a tiered system in which goods produced for consumption in Northern Ireland only would not need to be inspected at Irish Sea crossing points, and that goods that were made to standards that equalled those of the EU should be able to circulate freely.

‘Impossible’ steps

Other proposals included abolishing export certification, state aid rules and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, encompassing several steps that are seen as impossible for EU capitals to agree to.

Both Brussels and Dublin are seen to be keen to cool the heat on the issue of Northern Ireland and encourage negotiations to find solutions for any problems through the pathways laid out by the withdrawal agreement and trade deal wherever possible.

The commission warned that it would not renegotiate the protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by both sides as a way to allow Britain to leave the single market and customs union while avoiding the need for checks across the island of Ireland.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson originally praised the deal as a “reasonable, fair outcome” and a “very good deal” for both sides, but his government has since said it has been implemented in a stricter manner than foreseen.

“The EU has sought flexible, practical solutions to overcome the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the protocol – as demonstrated in the package of measures announced by the commission on June 30th,” a commission spokeswoman said.

“While the EU will not renegotiate the protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the protocol in a spirit of good faith and co-operation.”

It added that if was essential that “constructive discussions” continue in the coming weeks.

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Cladding repair bill is same as £230k price of this Hertfordshire flat



When homeowner Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 2017 for £230,000, she had no idea about the potentially crippling costs that lay ahead.

She moved into the flat just before the fire at Grenfell Tower, in West London, which caused 72 deaths.

Like so many other purchasers, Sophie bought moved into her flat believing that it was safe because it complied with building regulations. 

However, her flat has since deemed to be unsafe in the wake of the Grenfell fire.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Like so many other flat owners affected by fire safety issues, she has been left unable to sell her property, as mortgage lenders will no longer offer loans without fresh proof of safety. 

Her block of flats has been deemed unsafe and fire safety repairs need to be carried out. 

But the bill for the repairs are eye-watering, almost matching what she originally paid for the flat. 

This summer she was quoted £202,077 to fix just her flat, which is not far from the £230,000 that she originally paid for her home.

She understands that some of the £14million-plus costs to fix her block will be met from the Building Safety Fund, but it is not yet known how much financial assistance – if any – she will get.

This leaves her facing the unknown, a situation many flat owners find themselves in through no fault of their own.  

She says it is likely that she will have to relocate during the works for at least a month.

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Her block is home to 73 flats spread across 14 storeys. It is above 18 metres and had problems with combustible cladding and missing fire breaks.

It is unknown when the fire safety work is expected to begin as the Government has yet to confirm whether it will provide funding for her block.

But once the work does start, it is suggested that it could take 52 weeks, meaning Sophie would be effectively living on what would look like a building site for a year.

The block has already paid for six months of a waking watch at a cost of £600 a month per flat. Those payments stopped following the installation of new fire alarms.

Sophie told MailOnline Property: ‘We have a supportive network of leaseholders and so you can take time out from dealing with it. However, being in lockdown and in the flat twenty-four seven means I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this out.

‘Knowing that when you go to work that money has already been spent has been disheartening.

‘We just have to do what we can. It is easier for me to talk about it now, but there are people I know who are suicidal. While the Government is playing ‘who is to pay’, leaseholders are struggling to survive.’

‘We have had to put our life on hold. I can’t spend any money as I know I shall have a bill at the end of all of this, although I don’t know how much that will be.

‘I’d like to get married and have children, but simply cannot afford to contemplate that at the moment.’

Campaigners have called ministers of ignoring cladding victims’ screams for help.

Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said: ‘Ministers have betrayed leaseholders like Sophie. Ignoring their screams for help, dismissing their dreams and refusing to listen.

‘Leaseholders need practical support, not more weasel words and I will continue to fight for people like Sophie.

‘Leaseholders are not to blame, but they are facing devastating mental health and financial costs as they are left to pay more in remediating their flats, than they are now worth. It is a tragic market failure and we must step in as a government to support them.’

It follows an announcement by Robert Jenrick that neither leaseholders nor taxpayers should pay for dangerous cladding to be removed. 

He said that the law will be changed retrospectively to give homeowners 15 years to take action against their developers for shoddy workmanship.  

A MHCLG spokesman responded, saying: “Building owners should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will introduce a new legal requirement for owners of high-rise buildings to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of fixing their buildings.

“We are processing applications to the Building Safety Fund as quickly as possible – and we have been clear that we will fund the removal of dangerous cladding from high rise building where remediation is necessary.

“Our approach strikes the right balance in our continuing commitment to protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers – while reassuring lenders that where cladding remediation is needed, costs will not be a barrier or mean that mortgage payments become unmanageable.”

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