Hospitals are within their rights to continue to lock loved ones out of maternity appointments, despite the head of the HSE writing to healthcare facilities asking for restrictions to be lifted.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has defended the “barbaric” Covid-19 maternity restrictions and said hospitals do not have to lift the restrictions amid growing confusion and anger at the ad-hoc arrangements which have seen families split apart for milestone moments.
The HSE has admitted it does not know what visitor restrictions are in place in each of the country's maternity hospitals as Covid measures have been left up to individual managers.
Campaigners and opposition politicians have hit out at the "insulting" restrictions which mean expectant fathers and birth partners are being denied access for scans and during labour in some hospitals.
HSE boss Paul Reid intends to contact each of the 19 maternity units across the country asking that restrictions be lifted, however, this decision ultimately remains in the hands of individual hospitals.
Mr Reid said the HSE believes "the conditions are right that restrictions should be lifted."
If maternity hospital managers feel they still cannot comply with this request, Mr Reid said they should communicate the reasons for continuing with restrictions to expectant mothers.
But the HSE has no information on the specific visitor restrictions currently in place at a local level.
“This type of information is not collected centrally within our unit. It would be available at a local level in each individual maternity hospital,” general manager of the National Women and Infants Health Programme Mary-Jo Biggs told Labour leader Alan Kelly in response to parliamentary questions.
“The decision to facilitate partners at scans is a decision taken at a hospital level, considering the different circumstances in each location.”
Mr Kelly described this approach as "insulting" to pregnant women and their partners and said: “Whether it's a firstborn or second or third baby, you can’t provide comfort to a partner going through labour or going to a big scan from a car park.
“The Government has been leading women and their partners down the garden path when it comes to lifting of restrictions."
Ger Toohey tweet: "Hours away from having our first child and there I am waving up at herself from outside the hospital on the street, where do you begin..."
He said it is bad enough that the HSE does not know what is happening on the ground, but “even worse is that officials did not go around and ask the maternity services themselves because they could not be bothered. This is barbaric.”