- 08 Sep 21
With a brand new season of The Rotunda airing on RTÉ tonight, criticism has once again been raised on social media regarding the ethics of the show, given the controversial maternity hospital restrictions which plagued pregnant people and their partners.
"Tomorrow night a new series of The Rotunda will air on RTÉ," Linda Kelly of the #BetterMaternityCare group tweeted yesterday. "Recorded during the pandemic at a time when partners were told to wait outside in the car park. Let that sink in. A TV show was considered more important than providing safe, compassionate care."
Tomorrow night a new series of The Rotunda will air on RTÉ. Recorded during the pandemic at a time when partners were told to wait outside in the car park. Let that sink in. A TV show was considered more important than providing safe, compassionate care. #BetterMaternityCare
— Linda Kelly (@lindabtweeting) September 7, 2021
There are conflicting reports as to whether there were physical camera crews inside the hospital, with RTÉ and the Rotunda both stating last November and this week that manned cameras were installed in the rooms. However, numerous patients claimed that they were approached by producers during the lockdown period where tough measures were put in place in these hospitals.
"Camera crews were in the hospital. This has been confirmed by multiple patient reports and the recordings were done at a time when partner restrictions were much more stringent," Linda Kelly added.
With Covid-19 restrictions resulting in many mothers attending scans and going through much of their labour and the following days alone, many members of the public expressed outrage at the TV production going ahead last November while pregnant people remained unsupported by their partners for much of their pregnancy. Given that one-in-three pregnancies end in loss, presumably there were many other parents facing tragic news of miscarriage and fatal foetal abnormalities without family members or friends present.
"Our approach to The Rotunda documentary series has always been two-fold; to authentically tell the stories of mothers and their partners with care and compassion, and to celebrate the work of hospital staff in sometimes very difficult circumstances while at the same time bringing stories of love and compassion to the airwaves," the RTÉ press team told Hot Press today. "This holds true now more than ever. We believe in our public service remit and our objective in making this series is to offer an important insight into Irish life in 2021.
"For filming this season, we reduced our footfall in the hospital to the bare minimum with a lot of filming taking place off-site," RTÉ continued. "The majority of filming in the hospital was recorded by remote cameras controlled from outside the building. Additional research and filming was produced by a single person or on occasion by a compact two-person crew. Strict Covid-19 infection prevention and control protocols were followed at all times by the production."
A new series of 'The Rotunda' begins this evening on RTE 2.
In the first episode, Michelle and Clive return to The Rotunda, three years after the birth of their first child Zach. Zach was born prematurely and sadly passed away. pic.twitter.com/xG2U42tneP
— The Rotunda Hospital (@RotundaHospital) September 8, 2021
The Rotunda hospital also emphasised the reduced amount of crew members on site during filming.
“Filming took place from November 2020 to September 2021, with minimal numbers of crew on site at all times," the hospital commented to Hot Press today. "Filming in the delivery suites mainly took place through pre-installed fixed cameras that were operated remotely. For a limited amount of filming, one crew member, or on occasion a compact two-person crew, was present onsite. Family and staff interviews were filmed off site in a production studio. During the course of filming strict infection prevention and control protocols were adhered to at all times."
Hot Press asked Dr Krysia Lynch, practicing doula and chairperson of AIMS (Association of Improvements in Maternity Services) Ireland, for her opinion on the show's airing during such an emotionally charged time for pregnant people.
"We got an instant response last November during a very heavy lockdown from people who were, at that point, going through a difficult time," Dr Lynch remarks. "They felt like it was inappropriate at that moment to choose to issue a callout or film The Rotunda. Many would feel that a show being promoted while people didn't even have their partners with them for large parts of a slow labour is insensitive."
"Subsequently, we also had that response from the Rotunda that the cameras weren't manned, they were monitored remotely. However, for those cameras to be installed, a large number of people had to go into the hospital. Without a doubt, they were not necessary visitors," the doula continues, referencing the reduced number of camera and production crews. "At that time, some people couldn't visit their sick babies in the neo-natal ICU. People also felt that there was a cohort of producers being admitted to the Rotunda who were non-essential. Some parents weren't being admitted to see their partners, their newborns, or worse again - their sick babies.
"In terms of the restrictions in general, it makes a mockery of them. It enabled television staff who would not have been vaccinated at that time to come in while partners weren't allowed to attend the full labour."
Addressing the latest updates regarding current maternity hospital restrictions, Dr Lynch and Linda Kelly noted that the guidelines continue to separate pregnant people from their partners. At the moment, partners do not need to leave during labour and childbirth if a pregnant person has been taken directly to a single-occupancy room.
"For a lot of the antenatal visits, people are allowed in for the 12-week scans and there are better visiting hours, but it's still not how it was before Covid," Dr Lynch says. "Normal day-to-day activities in maternity hospitals have not yet returned to normal, and that's causing distress."
"So many pregnant people over the last year went through horrendous experiences, many will continue to be traumatised. We don't even know the total number of people who will be carrying that upset from giving birth during Covid onwards into their parenting. There were other ways to raise social issues, aside from on a TV show like The Rotunda. I don't think a show like that can give a full picture of the experiences because it's heavily produced and edited. That's just the nature of entertainment, but is that appropriate? Probably not," Dr Lynch reflects.
"Any other time, when having a baby is a happy, joyful, but sometimes terrifying experience, absolutely RTÉ should put the highs and the lows on TV to tell those stories. Previous series were successful in doing that but this series is different. The issue is so much broader than just having remote cameras installed."
"Acknowledging what people went through is so important in and of itself. That would help to alleviate some of the insensitivity of recruiting for the show and filming the series. Some people would have attended A&E on their own in the Rotunda to find out that their baby had died and they didn't have anybody with them when they were receiving that news. Their partner would have been in tears parked outside. Covid impacted the way that people dealt with miscarriage and loss so immensely."
Scratch Films, the company which produces the series, did not respond to Hot Press' request for comment.
RTÉ came under fire late last year after putting a call out for participants, tweeting: "Are you due to have your baby in The Rotunda in January 2021? Would you like to take part in series 3 of the award winning #TheRotunda TV series?"
It concluded by sharing the contact details for Scratch Films without explaining filming protocols for the programme. After backlash ensued, the Rotunda shared a statement under their initial post that read, "We’ve gotten a number of concerned messages about this news, so we’d just like to clarify and hopefully calm some fears about the series. We apologise for not being clear in our previous post. There won’t be any camera crew in the Delivery Suite while filming the show.
"We want to assure everyone that we would not take part in the documentary if we did not think it was safe and respectful," the hospital continued. "We feel that The Rotunda TV series has been an important platform that tells women’s pregnancy and birth stories with dignity and respect, both joyous and heartbreaking, and during this difficult time it’s even more important than ever to hear these stories."
Photo credit: RTÉ