Five of the 19 maternity units in hospitals around the country are not fully compliant with the guidelines on allowing partners attend scans and births, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

In a series of tweets this morning, Mr Donnelly said he had received a report from the Health Service Executive, which found that five hospitals were "not compliant."

He said these are St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, Wexford General Hospital, South Tipperary General Hospital, Waterford University Hospital and Letterkenny University Hospital in Donegal.

Partners have been unable to attend anomaly scans at St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny due to space constraints, which is due to be resolved by next week.

Daily visits to the maternity unit have not been allowed due to the co-location of the hospital, with a review to be carried out next week.

A review is also due to be conducted next week at Wexford General, where there are also issues with daily visiting due to co-located wards.

At South Tipperary General Hospital, daily visiting has not been permitted due to restrictions in the general hospital, but a visit on the third day is facilitated.

Hospital management at Wexford University Hospital are reviewing a restriction on daily visiting, while such visits for partners at Letterkenny University Hospital in Donegal have been limited due to Covid-related staff absences and virus rates in the community.

Partner visiting to the postnatal ward at University Hospital Waterford is to recommence from tomorrow.

Management at UHW said "the visitations will be strictly co-ordinated by the Ward Manager and will be subject to ongoing review".

Under the current national policy, partners are permitted to attend 20-week scans, birth and neonatal visits.

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Minister Donnelly said: "The five that are not compliant all have at least issues with daily visitation and all five are part of a general hospital, rather than being a standalone maternity unit."

He said the HSE will engage with the facilities "to work through solutions" and the HSE is also updating its guidance again "to make it very clear to maternity units that partners are to be present right throughout labour and birth and that includes when women are induced."

Weekly reviews will be carried out between the HSE and all maternity units.

Mr Donnelly said he shares "the frustration and the anguish of the many pregnant women and their partners about what some of them have been experiencing."

CEO of the HSE Paul Reid said they are working with the maternity hospitals that are not compliant with restrictions, and in many of those cases "there's a particular reason".

He said they are trying to help and support them over the next few days to work through it.

"I don't think it was any mischievous reason they just decided to be non-compliant", Mr Reid said.

Hospitals 'doing all they can'

The Clinical Director for Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate, which includes South Tipperary and Waterford hospitals, has defended the limits imposed on partners of women under his care.

Professor John R Higgins, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology University College Cork, said the management boards of the hospitals are "doing all they can" to reinstate visiting arrangements for expectant women and their partners.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, he said he and his colleagues are "most uncomfortable" with the prevention of partners to accompany mothers to be at the early ante natal scan appointments.

This is under weekly review, he said.

"The area where we are most uncomfortable about the partners not being there is probably the early scans, the first scan", Prof Higgins said. "That is still an issue. So what we have been doing is every week, this is reviewed. We have, over the last few weeks, been opening up further and further."

Prof Higgins said hospitals are continuing to deal with Covid-19 patients, and said that pre-admission tests are identifying cases.

He said the last three days of work at the hospitals have been "dominated" by Covid-19.

"At this point it is an issue, we have been dealing with cases, not just single cases of women testing positive, who we then have to care for, care for them and their baby."

Prof Higgins explained that at the hospitals under his care, partners can attend for the anatomy scan, which is 20-week scan, for labour, and for birth.

He said there "open visiting" for one partner for babies in the neonatal units.

He also said the hospitals have begun using a new electronic system which allows the partners to be allocated the time to come in and visit every day.

Maternity hospitals told to comply with HSE guidance

Paul Reid said he wants to acknowledge that restrictions at maternity hospitals had caused "a lot of anxiety" to couples, but also that maternity hospitals have a "very challenging role" to play to ensure staff and patients are safe.

Speaking at the weekly HSE briefing, Mr Reid said hospital groups have been advised by the Chief Clinical Officer to comply with the conditions set out by the HSE.

He said he personally spoke to all of the hospital group CEOs yesterday.

"Local risk assessments always have to be made and they have to be valued at a local level", Mr Reid said.

"Carrying out those risk assessments, the factors that we have set out that should be considered are – the level of restrictions in place nationally, the number of vaccinated staff in the hospital, the number of staff absent due to Covid infection in that hospital, and the rate of community transmission at a local level."

He said a detailed template was sent out on Wednesday to each hospital group to assess the current position in each of them, and these have been returned.