New report reveals devastating impact of Covid-19 on access to pregnancy and maternity services 

Engender and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) have today published a new report spotlighting women’s experiences of pregnancy and maternity services during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The report, ‘“Trauma, abandonment and isolation”: Experiences of pregnancy and maternity services in Scotland during Covid-19’, draws on survey responses from over 200 women across Scotland. It documents the profound and negative impact that public health restrictions had on access to vital healthcare across all aspects of these services from antenatal care, fertility treatment, to miscarriage and baby loss, birth and the postnatal period. 

Key findings include: 

  • Confusing, contradictory and limited communication about Covid-19 mitigation measures caused extreme anxiety and distress for pregnant women. 
  • The shift away from in-person care to remote appointments was a barrier to adequate standards of care. 
  • Isolation as a result of restrictions negatively affected all aspects of pregnancy and maternity care. Women underwent invasive procedures, gave birth, and suffered miscarriage and baby loss without support, suffering trauma as a result. 
  • Inflexible and inconsistent application of guidelines across different health board areas and health settings led to uncertainty and perceptions of unfairness. 
  • A narrow focus on labour and delivery meant wider health needs were overlooked, including mental health and breastfeeding support. 
  • Gendered health inequalities, such as pain management and the lack of an intersectional approach, were exacerbated by the pandemic. 
  • Ongoing impacts include gaps in mental health support and experiences of trauma relating to isolation and poor care. 

Jill Wood, Policy Manager at Engender, said:

“This research indicates that Covid-19 guidance and its application fundamentally failed to take account of women’s diverse needs and experiences during pregnancy and early motherhood. Confusing and contradictory communication, lack of in-person care and support, inflexible restrictions and inconsistent approaches across health board areas all undermined access to safe, dignified and quality healthcare.”

“The trauma caused by attending procedures and giving birth alone and the subsequent isolation, lack of support and adequate care, will stay with women long into the future."

"Scottish Government must learn from this, improve maternal health more broadly, and  deliver on commitments on women’s health.” 

Jane Miller, Academy Programme Manager at the ALLIANCE, said:

“Pregnancy and early parenthood can be challenging at the best of times. Our research shows that mitigation measures brought in during the pandemic exacerbated isolation and anxiety for many women in Scotland.” 

“There is now an urgent need to centre the experiences and priorities of women in the ongoing Covid-19 Inquiry, and in the development of any future emergency guidance regarding healthcare. We must mitigate the risk of isolation and adopt flexible, person-centred approaches grounded in human rights and gender equality.” 

A research participant said:

“It is essential that Scotland learns from people's experiences during the pandemic to improve maternity services and public health messaging. To do otherwise would be to fail, and further compound the trauma, of thousands of parents over the last few years.” 

The report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry and decision-makers in Scottish Government and health bodies. It highlights the need for a gendered and human rights approach to crisis management regarding healthcare, and for policy and services to take account of women’s particular experiences and needs at all life stages. 

The report will be submitted as evidence to the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry. 

Read the report online here.

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