The Government finally issued guidance on pregnant women and Covid in late December. What does it mean?
Just before Christmas, the Government finally published new guidance for pregnant women in relation to Covid.
The announcement of the new guidance came after months of lobbying by different groups concerned that women were at increased risk from Covid.
Studies show increased risk for pregnant women, particularly those from BAME communities. The British Medical Journal published research in September that pregnant women seen in hospitals with Covid-19 are less likely to show symptoms, and seem to be at increased risk of needing admission to an intensive care unit than non-pregnant women of similar age.
In June another study published in the BMJ found most pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid were in the late second or third trimester. While most had good outcomes and transmission to infants was uncommon, there was concern about the high number of women from black or minority ethnic groups admitted with infection and the study called for urgent investigation and explanation. In September, an Oxford University study of more than a dozen pregnant women who died of Covid between March and May 2020 found more than half were from BAME backgrounds.
The new guidance, published jointly by the Department for Health & Social Care and the Health & Safety Executive, says that pregnant women who have no underlying health issues and are under 28 weeks pregnant should have a workplace risk assessment and should only continue working if the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so.
It says that employers should remove or manage any risks and, if this cannot be done, they should offer pregnant employees suitable alternative work or working arrangements (including working from home) or suspend them on full pay.
For pregnant women with no underlying health issues who are over 28 weeks pregnant and those with health conditions that put them at greater risk from Covid, the guidance advises a “precautionary approach” because of the increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if women contract Covid.
It also advises that employers should ensure national guidance on social distancing is possible and if not, working from home should be allowed or redeployment considered. If adjustments or redeployment is not possible, women should be suspended on paid leave.
Maternity organisations have welcomed the guidance, despite the long delay and anxiety caused by the lack of clarification. Maternity Action has, however, urgently called for pregnant women who are past 28 weeks or clinically vulnerable and are furloughed to be suspended on full pay. Angry that there is no mention of pregnant women in the furlough guidance, they say this would mitigate the widespread confusion that reigned in the early days of the pandemic following the Prime Minister’s statement in March that pregnant women were particularly vulnerable to Covid and should effectively self-isolate and the lack of government guidance to back this up. This saw many pregnant women being unlawfully sent home on sick pay or unpaid leave by their employer. This not only reduced their income during pregnancy, but saw many lose entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay and facing reduced access to Universal Credit.