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Safety of pregnant women during the coronavirus outbreak

Volume 689: debated on Monday 22 February 2021

The petition of Ernest Boateng,

Declares that the wife of Ernest Boateng, Mary Agyiewaa Agyapong, a 28 year-old pregnant nurse, tragically died in April 2020, after becoming infected with covid-19; notes that a corresponding petition online has been signed by over 100,000 people; further declares that, since Mary’s death, very little has been done to protect pregnant women from this life-threatening virus, despite studies showing that for those in the later stages of pregnancy, they are more likely to become severely unwell; further that the announcement of a vaccine which is to be rolled out imminently is good news for many people who are vulnerable, but pregnant women will not be given the vaccine; notes that the current guidance continues to list pregnant women as vulnerable and says that if they cannot work from home then they should adhere to strict social distancing; further notes that research by Pregnant Then Screwed in October found that 57% of pregnant women who are working outside of the home do not feel safe, and only half of pregnant women (53%) have had a risk assessment from their employer; further declares that, even then, many employers are ignoring their own risk assessment; further notes that only 1% of pregnant women who cannot work from home have been suspended from work on safety grounds; further that the groups at increased risk of severe covid-19 were recognised including the increased risk for mothers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage; and further declares that Mary should not have been working based on the facts and findings above as she was 35 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for covid-19.

The petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to protect pregnant women during the ongoing covid-19 pandemic by ensuring they can either work from home or that they have the right to full paid leave.

And the petitioner remains, etc.

—[Presented by Sarah Owen , Official Report, 13 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 443.]


Observation from The Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, (Ms Dorries):

Employers’ health and safety responsibilities for pregnant workers have not changed and guidance provided by the Health and Safety Executive emphasises the importance of ongoing, open discussions between employers and their workers. Concerns raised to the Health and Safety Executive are investigated and a range of enforcement from guidance and advice through to prosecution can be used.

On 23 December, guidance for pregnant employees, including pregnant healthcare professionals, was published by the Government together with the Health and Safety Executive, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. The guidance is available here:

The guidance aims to aid discussions between employees, line managers and the occupational health team about the best way to ensure health and safety in the workplace. It sets out recommendations for women less than 28 weeks pregnant, women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, and women with underlying health conditions

The guidance sets out that if a woman is pregnant and has let their employer know in writing of their pregnancy, the employer should carry out a risk assessment to follow the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000. Pregnant women of any gestation should not be required to continue working if this is not supported by the risk assessment.

The Government and the Health and Safety Executive have provided clear Health and Safety guidance to employers, to minimise risk in the workplace. This includes a requirement to carry out a risk assessment to identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus and thinking about who could be at risk (e.g. pregnant women).

The current position set out in this guidance is:

If it is not possible for the employer to offer safe work for an expectant mother following a risk assessment, she is entitled to be offered suitable alternative work.

If there is no suitable alternative work or working from home, the employer must suspend the employee on full pay for as long as the risk remains. This is in line with normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

If an employee has concerns, they can raise them with their workplace representative or the Health and Safety Executive, whose contact details are in the Safer Workplaces guides: HSE COVID-19 enquiries Telephone: 0300 790 6787 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm).

Where there is evidence that an employer has deliberately flouted the law, HSE will consider taking enforcement action.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation updated their advice on 30 December, which now indicates that vaccination in pregnancy should be considered where the risk of exposure to covid-19 is high and cannot be avoided, or where the woman has underlying conditions which puts them at very high risk of serious complications of covid-19.

In these circumstances, it is recommended that clinicians discuss risks and benefits of vaccination with the woman, and they should be made aware of the absence of safety data for the covid-19 vaccine in pregnant women before accepting it.