Covid-19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Hospitals opt for different visiting rules during lockdown

Whether or not you are allowed to visit your loved one in hospital under alert level 4 depends on where you live, the Herald can reveal.

Some hospitals allow two visitors, one at a time, while others say only one support person and only in “extreme” circumstances.

Patient advocates said inconsistencies among hospitals’ visiting rules were frustrating and needed to be ironed out by the Ministry of Health.

However, the ministry said it was up to each District Health Board to decide “how to operationalise”.

It comes as most parts of the country moved into alert level 3 on Wednesday while Auckland remained under level 4 lockdown for another two weeks.

Under Auckland DHB’s alert level 4 guidelines, if a patient is staying at Auckland City, Starship or Greenlane Clinical Centre, they’re allowed two registered visitors, one at a time between 7am and 8pm.

This excluded those under the age of 14 years old and those with Covid symptoms.

“We’ll be screening visitors on arrival. If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, or have been identified as a close contact, please don’t visit,” Auckland DHB said on its website.

However, if a person was admitted to Middlemore, Whangarei, North Shore or Waitakere they were only allowed one visitor under specific requirements, which again differed depending on the hospital.

Counties Manukau DHB also said on its website: “No children under 15.”

Patient Voice Aotearoa chairman Malcolm Mulholland said without doubt there needed to be some consistency so that loved ones knew where they stood at the various alert levels.

“It should not alter according to which hospital you have to visit…I would have thought a common sense approach would prevail,” Mulholland said.

The rules between different hospital’s maternity wards was particularly inconsistent.

Women who have given birth at North Shore or Waitakere were entitled to have a support person with them after birth, if they were the same person who was with them at birth.

But at Middlemore Hospital women in maternity care were allowed just one support person during birth and only if approved by the charge midwife.

A support person was only approved after birth under compassionate circumstances such as a still birth or if there was “extreme distress”, a Counties Manukau DHB spokesman said.

This meant that those who had given birth not under “extreme distress” were likely left without any family by their side during their postnatal stay.

The Herald asked the DHB to further explain how it defined “extreme distress”, and it was yet to get a response.

Mothers Matter founder and advocate for women accessing maternal care, Chloe Wright, said DHBs operating differently was a real problem because there was no consistency in the care.

“Often we are hearing the partner has to leave two hours after giving birth and the mum also has to leave pretty quickly.

“Not having that time where they can both really attach to their baby in hospital has a dreadful psychological-mental impact, it’s a terrible cost,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Herald uncovered how nearly half of women who gave birth during last year’s nationwide lockdown at Waitematā DHB left hospital sooner than they wanted – fuelling a rise in those readmitted with complications.

“I felt alienated. Depressed and stressed,” one new mother told the DHB, after the health board surveyed women who gave birth during lockdown restrictions.

“I cried the whole night. Alone in the ward. Felt like I was a prisoner. No support at all. This whole experience of giving birth was traumatic,” she said.

DHB leaders wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little asking for a wide-ranging review into how Covid-19 disrupted different health services, so lessons could be learnt for future pandemics.

“The lack of support people on the postnatal ward was a key factor in early discharge decisions made by women which also resulted in an increased readmission rate,” a report on the maternity survey concluded.

The Ministry of Health’s DHB planning, funding and accountability manager Jess Smaling said there was a National Hospital Covid-19 Escalation Framework but it was up to DHBs to apply local decisions about hospital and clinic visitors in line with their status against this framework.

“People accessing hospital services are advised to check in with their local DHB or health provider for up to date information about current restrictions or changes to service.”

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