Britain’s National Health Service recently unveiled a new policy where fathers can stay in maternity wards overnight, and their decision has ignited a firestorm of controversy.
In 2011, the Royal College of Midwives partnered with the Fatherhood Institute, the Department of Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to release a report about the father’s involvement in postnatal care. They found “health and wellbeing benefits” when the father was involved in postnatal care, and that both the mother and the father generally wanted the father to be involved.
The report then laid out a plan on how local hospitals could better-involve fathers in postnatal care. One of the “best practice” examples they cited was the ‘Partners Staying Overnight’ pilot at Bath’s Royal United Hospital, which allowed partners to stay with the new mother and their baby overnight.
Since then, hospitals across the nation have begun following RUH’s example. And the debate about the issue has raged.
One of the strongest voices in favor is that of Dr. Irene Gafson, a current Teaching Fellow at the UCL Medical School who worked for many years as a trainee obstetrician. She says that her eyes were opened by her time working in an Australian hospital, where patients were happier and staff had “a real sense of job satisfaction.”
She noted that one of the main differences was that, in her Australian hospital, fathers and partners were allowed to stay with the mother overnight. In her opinion, the policy decreased the caregiving burden on hospital staff and made the new mothers feel less isolated and lonely.
While she believes that the ideal solution would be a separate room for each new family, she believes that allowing fathers to stay in maternity wards is a more realistic solution.
Not everyone agrees with Gafson’s assessment of the situation. Britain’s Daily Mail and Telegraph papers both published blistering articles against the new policy, the Telegraph’s entitled, “New fathers staying overnight in hospitals? Only a man would think of this.”
The main concern that the anti-staying side has is safety and privacy of new mothers. In British hospital beds, most people are housed in multi-use rooms with curtains between the beds, often with gaps in the curtains. Mothers who are breastfeeding, having a catheter changed, or are immobile due to having a c-section report feeling uncomfortable or unsafe with men in the room.
Dr. Elle Boag, a social psychologist at Birmingham City University, worries that the new policy may lead women to leave the hospital before it’s advisable, complicating any post-natal issues. And Esther Rosen, a new mother opposed to the policy, echoes the popular belief that passing on hospital work to the husband is unfair. She told The Sun, “It saddens me when husbands are drafted in as caregivers in a hospital ward when they should be getting much-needed rest at home so they can better take care of their new families upon discharge.”
Both the pro and anti-staying sides have strong points, and neither of them look as though they’ll budge any time soon. It looks like the debate about the role of fathers in post-natal care may be here to stay.