Luton and Dunstable hospital pioneers stay-over facilities in maternity suite

30 June 2005

Men who accompany their pregnant partners to the delivery suite at Luton and Dunstable Hospital can now enjoy a privilege accorded to few expectant dads in hospital – a bed to themselves.

But the innovation was not achieved without overcoming serious reservations among some staff at the prospect of men being let loose overnight on the maternity ward.

As part of a £1.6m modernisation, the hospital has designated one four-bedded side ward in the pre-and-post maternity suite as an experimental “family” room, where men can stay with their wives overnight before the birth.

Most women kept in the ward will be giving birth before term or prepared for induced labour, and partners need to be close at hand. Upright chairs next to the four beds have been removed and replaced by bed-chairs, where partners can sleep.

The ward also has a small kitchen and sitting room, and families will even be able to prepare meals.

The hospital is among a small number in the NHS that provide overnight facilities for fathers, and the idea is likely to become much more common as the national service framework for women and children is adopted. Even so it was not achieved without overcoming concerns among traditionalist midwifery staff.

Eilish Kennedy, head of the maternity unit, said “It’s a very simple idea – men will be able to stay overnight with their partner.  If she goes into labour, they’ll be on the spot and won’t have to tear to the hospital in the middle of the night.

“It is fair to say that some staff had issues and concerns about it and we had very detailed discussions before going ahead. Some staff were concerned about the feelings of other women on the ward.  What if one woman had a partner staying, but the others didn’t?

“What if men have to get up in the night to use the bathroom?  There was some concern that people would be wandering around the maternity ward at night and they might not be appropriately dressed.  There were also some worries about the feelings of women from different ethnic groups towards strange men on the ward.

“At the end of the day, everybody agreed that it is a good idea and the correct road to go down.   But we have put together a few basic rules about privacy, dress and hygiene – such as keeping the kitchen clean – that men will have to agree to first.”

Eilish Kennedy said the maternity staff were agreed that mothers-to-be would benefit from having partners close at hand at a stressful time, and midwives and nurses could benefit because partners would take some of the responsibility of caring for their partners.

The bed chair scheme will be tested for six months and could be extended if it is a success.  “If it works it could eventually be very supportive for everybody, but it is only part of a much wider push to involve fathers more with pre natal education and care,” Eilish Kennedy said.