The Master of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital has said restrictions at the hospital could be loosened if there was a higher uptake of Covid-19 vaccinations among patients and visitors.

Professor Fergal Malone urged pregnant women and their partners to get the vaccine, saying the high vaccination uptake in the general population is not reflected in maternity hospitals.

If vaccination rates could rise, he said, then it would be possible to ease restrictions.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Prof Malone said a new pathway will be in place from this week to allow partners accompany patients to the early pregnancy assessment unit and to the anomaly scan at 20 weeks.

In addition, he said, the Rotunda allows all patients around five to six hours of visiting each day, and eight or nine hours at the weekend, which exceeds the HSE guidelines of 30 minutes.

However, he said, that in certain parts of the hospital, in particular the old main building, there is no ventilation and there is not the physical space to allow large numbers of adults sit together safely in a confined space.

Hes said that the ultrasound waiting room has only 12 seats in it.

"If I have eight or nine mothers sitting there and suddenly that's 16 or 18 adults because they all have a partner with them in a small room that is not ventilated and not capable of being ventilated, that is a very serious risk.

"And it's the same with the emergency room waiting area, there's only 10 seats there. And again, if they're all filled or most of them are filled by patients needing assessment, and I now double that by having their partner with them during that time, it's just not safe."

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Prof Malone said that every delivery room in the Rotunda is a single private room, which means a woman's partner can stay with them as soon as they are admitted to that room.

There are currently eight available rooms and this shortly will increase to 11.

A campaigner for maternity care said the Rotunda Hospital needs to "move past using its own discretion" in deciding on public health restrictions and allow greater access to partners.

Linda Kelly of the Better Maternity Care Campaign said that a dedicated national roadmap needs to be followed by all maternity hospitals and units, that allows for the ongoing Covid-19 risk.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, she said the Rotunda Hospital has a "valid concern" about the risk to unvaccinated women, but said "it is not tenable that partner restrictions continue to be the status quo for maternity services around the country".

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Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns said it is "a geographical lottery" based on where someone attends maternity services on how much access their partners will get.

"It has not been considered properly...the CMO [Dr Tony Holohan] has said there is no good reason in public health terms for these restrictions", she said.

'My partner and I are fully vaccinated'

'The hospital is trying to do their best," says one pregnant woman (stock image)

Alison Reynolds is 33 weeks pregnant and a patient at the Rotunda Hospital.

"I'm just very surprised about the announcement from the Rotunda. My partner has not been able to attend any of my midwifery appointments. So I'm unsure as to how they know his vaccination status as we have never been asked.

"I've offered that information so I'm just concerned if the restrictions are based on this information. My partner and I are fully vaccinated," she said.

Alison said she's attended the ultrasound and emergency departments at the Rotunda.

"I understand the limitations and the infrastructure. My partner has been able to attend the 12 week scan not the 20 week scan. I would like to have my partner with me for my labour. That's caused me a lot of anxiety and a lotn of stress," Alison said.

One woman who is expecting twins and is a patient of the Rotunda said her partner has only been able to attend the 20 week scan.

"I had an early scan from a previous loss but I did not mind because the hospital is trying to do their best for vulnerable people," she said.

Another woman who gave birth to a baby boy in the Rotunda last Saturday said she has had no visitors.

"I've been left in the hospital on my own, it really affects your mental health," she told RTÉ News.

Reporting Sharon Lynch

Separately, the vaccination centre at Citywest will run a evening walk-in clinic tomorrow.

The clinic will be open from 6pm to 10am and anyone over 16 who is not yet vaccinated can attend for a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

People who have registered in advance should bring photo ID (including proof of date of birth).

For anyone who has not pre-registered, they should also bring their PPS number and eircode, and will be asked for a mobile phone number and email address.

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