Support partners of women attending maternity services will be allowed access to in-patient areas in all maternity services from 1 November.

The updated guidance issued today from the Health Service Executive states access will be allowed during normal visiting hours of 8am to 9pm.

It said maternity hospitals and the HSE remain committed to facilitating the support partner of a woman attending for antenatal care or childbirth, to be present to the "greatest extent possible".

Under the updated guidelines, partners should be able to attend the 12 and 20-week scans, early pregnancy assessment units, unscheduled attendance including attendance at emergency services and other antenatal appointments that are likely to involve communication that would be very upsetting or emotionally distressing.

A nominated support partner should also have access to the labour ward and throughout delivery.

Parents with babies in the Neonatal care unit (NICU) should also be allowed regular access, however the HSE said it is important to schedule visits "to protect the babies who would be in quite a small, open spaces".

It follows a trial run of greater access for nominated partners in two maternity hospitals.

The HSE's national clinical lead on antimicrobial resistance and infection prevention control said the executive looked at the experience of these two hospitals in managing the greater access for nominated support partners in all in patient areas including multi-bed rooms.

Professor Martin Cormican said that patients, partners and staff worked well together and the hospitals "have not seen any evidence of spread of infection".

Prof Cormican said that because of this, the HSE can make "an informed and safe decision to facilitate more access".

The HSE thanked the women and their partners for their support and patience in helping to keep maternity services safe during what it called a difficult period.