Guidance from the the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published last week said that GPs who are more than 28 weeks pregnant, or who are pregnant and have underlying health conditions, should avoid direct patient contact during the coronavirus outbreak.
But updated guidance says healthcare staff at all stages of pregnancy should have the choice to step back from patient-facing roles.
It makes clear that women who are less than 28 weeks pregnant should 'practise social distancing but can choose to continue working in a patient-facing role, provided the necessary precautions are taken'. The updated advice confirms that those over 28 weeks pregnant or with underlying health conditions should 'avoid direct patient contact and it is recommended that they stay at home'.
'Employers should seek opportunities for these individuals to work flexibly in a different capacity, to avoid roles where they are working directly with patients,' the guidance says.
Despite the fact that pregnant women were placed in a 'vulnerable group' for coronavirus by the chief medical officer earlier this month, the guidance says current evidence suggests pregnant women are no more likely than the rest of the population to contract the virus. There is also no evidence that a pregnant woman can transfer the virus to her baby if she contracts COVID-19.
However, the guidance says the decision to class pregnant women as a vulnerable group is due to 'the need to restrict spread of illness because if the number of infections were to rise sharply the number of severely infected women could rise and this could put the lives of some pregnant women in danger.'
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said: 'The government has taken the precautionary approach to include all pregnant women in a vulnerable group. This guidance will give pregnant healthcare workers the ability to make an informed choice about how they can continue to make an active and valuable contribution to the huge challenge facing us, whether at home or in the workplace.'
Dr Edward Morris, president of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: 'We fully understand and empathise with the fear and anxiety faced by all healthcare professionals at this uncertain time, and particularly by staff with vulnerabilities, including pregnant healthcare professionals.
'Although the evidence to date available offers no evidence of harm, it is not possible to give absolute assurance to any pregnant woman that contracting coronavirus carries no risk to her baby and no risk to her over and above that experienced by a non-pregnant healthy individual.
'In light of the limited evidence, pregnant women of any gestation should be offered the choice of whether to work in direct patient-facing roles during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their choices should be respected and supported.'