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EXCLUSIVE: Terrace couple challenge Northern Health’s ultrasound policy

The couple says Northern Health’s policy robbed them of the ability to see their baby’s heartbeat together for the first time
Terrace couple Lisa Seymour and Christopher England stand outside Mills Memorial Hospital. The couple is speaking out against Northern Health’s policy prohibiting guests, including partners, from being present during ultrasound scans. (Viktor Elias/Terrace Standard)

A Terrace couple is speaking out against Northern Health’s policy at Mills Memorial Hospital prohibiting guests, including partners, from being present during ultrasound scans.

Christopher England and Lisa Seymour, who are expecting a child in January, say the policy is discriminatory and emotionally harmful.

On June 7, England attempted to accompany Seymour for an ultrasound scan at the hospital, following a doctor’s requisition that included a request that he be present. The couple claims that hospital staff denied England entry to the ultrasound room, despite the doctor’s specific request.

“Fathers should not be treated as second-class citizens and should be allowed in there, especially when they want to take part in the pregnancy,” England stated.

He believes that the policy does not match the experience of others he has spoken to. “Nobody I’ve talked to has ever said that they had to wait outside,” he added.

This incident echoes an earlier situation in April when Seymour suffered a miscarriage.

At that time, England was also not allowed to accompany Seymour for her ultrasound.

“She’s had a miscarriage before and had to go through this alone, where I wasn’t allowed in the room,” England said.

The couple says they tried to prevent this from happening again by having the doctor stipulate on the ultrasound requisition that England be allowed in the room.

Dr. Ademola Aremu, a physician at the Northern Health Virtual Clinic in Prince George, asked that staff “kindly allow her partner to be present at the USS [ultrasound scanning] for support.” That request was denied.

Hospital staff cited policy as the reason, suggesting the presence of another person might distract the ultrasound technician and that any potential issues with the pregnancy could not be discussed by the technician.

England argued that this policy deprived him of sharing the moment of seeing their baby’s heartbeat for the first time with Seymour.

“What really got me was my girlfriend sitting there, saying she was excited to see my facial expression when I see the baby’s heartbeat for the first time,” England said. “And I never got to see that with her.”

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England doesn’t blame the technicians but believes there needs to be a policy change.

He questioned the health authority’s reasoning, arguing the policy contradicts the commonly accepted idea that partners should be more involved in pregnancies. He expressed concern that if a potential health issue is detected during an ultrasound, he should have the right to be present.

In a statement to the Terrace Standard, Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said “while we cannot speak to specific and individual patient circumstances or concerns for privacy reasons, I can confirm that NH [Northern Health] policy region-wide is that only a patient is brought into the room for a prenatal ultrasound scan.”

Collins said that “after all diagnostic images are taken and providing there is time remaining in the appointment, one additional person can be brought into the room to view the images. Patients are advised of this when appointments are booked — and while every effort is made to leave time in the appointment for an additional person to come in, it is not always possible.”

In a later statement, Collins said that Northern Health’s current policy was reviewed in 2020.

“While there were provincially-directed changes during the pandemic (e.g., that no third parties were allowed in the room during an exam, at any point), we’ve recently returned to the 2020 policy directives,” Collins said. “The policy is regularly reviewed to ensure it continues to align with professional practice standards.”

“There are some specific circumstances where a third party may be needed in the room with a patient (e.g., if the patient is a minor, requires an interpreter, or another special circumstance),” Collins said. “Obstetrical ultrasounds are medical exams to assess the health of the patient and their fetus, and that is the sonographer’s focus. For this reason, third parties are only invited in when the exam is complete, and providing time remains in the appointment to do so.”

In contrast to Northern Health’s policy, Vancouver Coastal Health typically allows an additional person into the room, if requested.

“Medical imaging staff understand that obstetrical ultrasound is a very special moment for patients and their partner to first see an image of their future baby,” said Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Jeremy Deutsch. “Patients who have an ‘essential care partner’ should inform the sonographer of their needs and if they need support of their essential care partner during the entire duration of the ultrasound exam.”

Deutsch added that, if the person is not considered an “essential care partner,” they, too, provide an opportunity after the examination is over.

“Patients whose partner or family member is not considered an ‘essential care partner’ are welcome and invited to come in to the ultrasound examination room to view real time images of the fetus after the formal ultrasound examination is complete (e.g., all images acquired and detailed measurements performed) and at the request of the patient,” Deutsch said.

The couple has filed a complaint with Northern Health and left a message with Skeena MLA Ellis Ross’s office.

They hope their efforts will bring about a change in the policy, not only for themselves but for future families as well.

“If there’s something in the ultrasound that might say something about the baby not being 100 per cent healthy, as a father, I should be there to hear what’s going on with my child,” England declared. “I just feel it’s not good for families, especially families who want to do this stuff together.

“Why can’t I be in there holding her hand?”

Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.

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