Pandemic a ‘ticking time bomb’ for maternal mental health

The coronavirus pandemic has intensified the struggle new mothers face with their mental health.

Lesley-Anne McDonald via / Lindsey Singers via

Welcoming a baby into the world can be a time filled with joy, happiness and hope for the future.

But for many mothers, that’s not the case, with one in five developing a mental health problem during pregnancy or the first year after birth.

The pandemic has intensified this struggle, with hospital restrictions, face-to-face services taking place online and limited visits from family and friends impacting on mothers’ mental health.

Statistics show:

  • As many as one in five women will develop a mental health problem during the perinatal period (pregnancy and the first year after birth). (Royal College of General Practitioners)
  • Depression and anxiety are the most common disorders, occurring in around 15 per cent of those women. ((Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists)
  • A recent report from MMBRACE-UK examining the care offered to mothers found that four women in the UK took their own lives between March and May this year. Three of the deaths were within the first six weeks of having their baby.
ADVERT

There are now calls for more immediate support, amid warning of a “ticking time bomb”, as new mums try to cope with the combined pressures of parenthood and the pandemic.

STV News has been hearing from new mums as well as those involved in their care.

Lesley-Anne McDonald

Lesley suffered severe post-natal depression and anxiety after the birth of her daughter Lily-Anne four years ago. Her son, Joey-Paul, was born in June, during lockdown.

ADVERT

“Being in hospital this year was very different from when I had Lily-Anne.

“I am very thankful that this time around I am mentally well, but those mums – especially first-time mums – who are struggling are never far from my mind.

“There are mothers that probably should be admitted to hospital earlier, but they’re reluctant to go because of the fear of being in there alone.

“I saw women in the hospital crying because they couldn’t see their loved ones.

“I saw one girl going to the window just to see her family because she was so traumatised. I couldn’t even give her a hug. It broke my heart.

“Since Joey-Paul was born, the majority of his health checks have been online.

“We’re not getting that interaction with people, everything is done over the phone. So much can be missed with mental health if you’re not seeing someone physically.

Lesley-Anne with newborn Joey-Paul.
ADVERT

“I worry about people who don’t have a partner, who don’t have family. We need to get them support.

“We need more funding. We can’t play postcode lotteries with people’s mental health, there are babies and children at risk as well as mums. What can be more important than that?

“When I was ill I had to travel more than 170 miles from my home in Aberdeenshire to Livingston, as it was one of only two inpatient mother and baby units in Scotland. And that’s still the case.

“It should not have taken a pandemic for all this to be highlighted. We’ve been saying these things for years. Our voices are not being heard.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, but not everyone is as lucky.”

The community support group

Linsey Singers and Gill Skene both suffered from severe mental health problems following the birth of their babies.

Concerned by the lack of specialist perinatal services, they set up their own support group in Aberdeenshire. They say they’ve been inundated with calls during the pandemic.

Lindsey Singers

“We have mums who have had to go to scans alone and received bad news.

“We have mums who are having to labour alone and are having a traumatic labour without the support of their partners.

“They can’t have grannies and aunties round to help look after the baby, depending on the restrictions. They’re just not getting a break.

“These mums are sitting at home, alone, not knowing if how they feel is normal, not knowing if they can access help because of Covid-19 and we’re so worried that they will wait and wait until they are severely ill.

“I had Jack four years ago and waited six months to access the help I needed. By that time I needed access to an inpatient facility, miles and miles from home.

“For mums coming to us now, the service is worse than when I had to wait to get treatment four years ago. It makes me very angry.

Gill Skene

“Mums cope. Mums get up every day, we feed the babies, we change the nappies, we put ourselves last. We get on with it. Until we can’t.

“We need face to face health visitors before we need the pub, we need face to face psychiatric and psychology appointments before we need a restaurant.

“I dread to think about the number of mums who are sitting at home right now and finding it difficult to get support. I think the numbers are huge.

“There are a lot of gaps in communication at the moment and mums are being left behind.

“There will come a time when the NHS will become overwhelmed with mums needing help. I fully believe that’s going to happen.

“We’re not thinking about the impact on our children of a whole generation of mothers being really, really badly affected.

“It’s a mental health crisis and we need to be prioritising the needs of these women. Because in all honesty, if we don’t have happy, functioning families, we don’t have anything.”

What do the experts say?

Joanne Smith, charity worker

Joanne is a coordinator with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, a charity which supports pregnant women and new mothers.

“We have to recognise there’s a ticking time bomb around maternal mental health.

“A lot of women have held it together during the lockdown period to get their baby here safe and well, and now they’re beginning to reflect on what has been a deeply traumatic time for them.

“Our levels of perinatal provision in Scotland are woefully inadequate and require urgent investment.

“While there have been plans put in place for the development of specialist community services, the test of those plans will be whether they can be implemented locally.

“The resources provided alongside those plans, including staffing, fall far short of what is required to have the plans fully rolled out.

“A recent report found four women in the UK took their own lives between March and May. That’s four new mums who have died in eight weeks. Four new babies who are now without their mothers.

“In Scotland only eight of our health boards provide a specialist perinatal mental health service and only one of those is a comprehensive service.

“It’s really vital that we get the urgent investment to ensure that no women are suffering in silence and isolated from the support that could prevent problems escalating.”

Shona McCann, specialist mental health midwife

Shona is NHS Grampian’s only specialist perinatal mental health midwife.

“Because of the pandemic and the social distancing, I’ve had to do my consultations over the phone.

“It is difficult because obviously you don’t have that face to face contact, and it can be difficult to build a rapport.

“A lot of the women are scared to leave their house, they have to wear their masks, they’re not seeing their relatives so they can get more depressed and feel they have no-one to talk to.

“My advice to pregnant women and new mothers would be to please reach out. Speak to your midwife, speak to your health visitor, speak to your GP. There is help available.

“If you get seen early you will get the support you need throughout your pregnancy and when you have your baby. We are there for you.”

What is the Scottish Government doing to tackle the issue?

The Scottish Government said £50m is being invested in mental health services for expectant and new mums.

They will also be launching a family fund to help with travel expenses for those women receiving inpatient care.

Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “It’s vitally important that we support mums and their babies and their families at this really important time in their life, but also in the development of their child.

“We’re working right across Scotland to enhance and to build services for women much closer to home.”


Further 89 deaths from coronavirus recorded in Scotland

John Swinney said the total number of coronavirus deaths in Scotland now stands at 5,468.

SNS Group via SNS Group

Scotland has recorded a further 89 deaths from coronavirus, the Deputy First Minister has said.

At Thursday’s daily briefing, John Swinney said the total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5468.

There were 1636 new cases of Covid-19 reported, with 2004 people currently in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 161 people were in intensive care, an increase of five from Wednesday.

ADVERT

He added that 168,219 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up from 166,583 the previous day.

The daily test positivity rate is 7%, down from 7.5% on the previous 24 hours.

The Deputy First Minister said that 334,871 people have now received their first coronavirus vaccination and added it is hoped all over 70s will be vaccinated by mid-February.

Swinney said the latest estimate showed the R number in Scotland – the average number of people infected by each person with Covid-19 – was now estimated to be “around 1” and had “probably fallen during the last week”.

ADVERT

This shows the current lockdown measures are “at the very least helping to stabilise case numbers”, the Deputy First Minister added.

He said the number of infections occurring remained “concerningly high”.

Swinney also said that three new walk-in testing centres were opening in Scotland this week.

One opened in Paisley on Tuesday, he said, with further sites opening in Dunfermline and Glenrothes later on Thursday.

He said that each of these new centres would be able to undertake up to 300 Covid-19 tests a day and take the total number of walk in centres to 28.

“They will help to increase the accessibility and effectiveness of testing,” Swinney added.

The Deputy First Minister stressed that while infection numbers remained high, the lockdown restrictions were “vital”.

ADVERT

Swinney said: “They are the single most important way in which we can reduce case numbers and ease some of the pressure on our health and social care services.”


Floods across Scotland as Storm Christoph brings heavy rain

The storm has brought with it travel disruptions and an avalanche warning.

Ruth Haughs via Ruth Haughs
Flooding: Heavy rain in Aberdeenshire.

Scotland has been hit by heavy flooding as Storm Christoph brings torrential rain, gale force winds and enough snow on hills for a potential avalanche.

The north and north-east of the country has been hit hardest with several areas reporting flooding.

Pictures show The Den in Turriff submerged in water following Thursday’s rainfall.

Flooding: The Den in Turriff. (Ruth Haughs)

There has also been reports of several disruptions to travel with train services in Inverness and Wick dealing with short delays.

ADVERT

Journeys to and from Inverness were delayed after a tree fell on the track near Carrbridge Station and services to Wick were suspended after a landslip on the Far North Line between Tain and Fearn.

And snow in the south-east has caused concerns over a potential avalanche in the Pentlands and other hills.

Al MacPherson via email
Snow caused dangerous driving conditions. Picture by Al MacPherson.

The Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue team issued a warning on Thursday over the fears urging anyone in the area to take care due an avalanche that could be big enough to bury a person if they are caught in it.

On Facebook they said: “**Avalanche Warning**Word of caution if you’re doing anything off-piste in the Pentlands (or other hills). This is a full depth slab avalanche on the South side of Turnhouse.

ADVERT

“All the blown wind slab thats accumulated from recent snowfalls has only been weakly bonded to the grass beneath. Certainly enough to knock you off your feet, maybe enough to bury you if caught and you’re unlucky!.”

Steven Mackay via Facebook
Snowfall on Thursday morning.

The weather is likely to calm down on Friday and into the weekend, although wintry showers are expected in the far north and west.

STV’s Sean Batty said: “Longer term, while temperatures will be up and down from day to day, it generally looks like the remainder of January and through the start of February will be colder than normal.

“That means that snow is still likely to be an issue from time to time in the coming weeks.”


North Sea platform shut down after coronavirus outbreak

The Ithaca Energy FPF-1 Floating Production Facility was shut down following the outbreak.

Michael Saint Maur Sheil via Getty Images
Outbreak: North Sea platform closed after Covid-19 outbreak (file pic).

A North Sea platform has been shut down due to a number of coronavirus infections.

The first crew member tested positive for Covid-19 after displaying symptoms on board Ithaca Energy’s FPF-1 Floating Production Facility – around 150 miles east of Aberdeen – on Tuesday.

A further three workers were then found to have been infected with the virus and close contacts of all cases have been told to self-isolate.

An Ithaca Energy spokesman said: “The safety and wellbeing of our workforce is our top priority.

ADVERT

“Production on the FPF-1 has been shut in to ensure the safety of all those on board.

“We are moving to minimum manning, conducting a thorough deep clean, and implementing testing of those essential personnel remaining onboard the platform.

“We will not seek to restart production until we are confident that the virus has been eradicated from the platform and we can start up in a safe and controlled manner.”

Public Health Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive have been notified.


Man dies after being hit by falling mast at building site

Enquiries into the death are ongoing alongside the Health and Safety Executive.

Police Scotland
Emergency services were called to Hallmeadow Place in Annan.

A man has died at a building site in Dumfries and Galloway after being struck by a fallen mast.

The 52-year-old was killed on an Ashleigh Building site in Hallmeadow Place, Annan, around 9.45am on Thursday morning.

The site has been closed and an investigation has been launched into the death by police and the Health and Safety Executive.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 9.45am on Thursday, January 21, we were called to a report of a mast having fallen on a 52-year-old man at a building site on Hallmeadow Place, Annan.

ADVERT

“Emergency services attended and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Enquiries into the incident will be carried out alongside the Health and Safety Executive. A report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”

A spokesperson for Ashleigh Building said: “We are devastated to confirm a fatality on our Hallmeadow, Annan site this morning.

“Whilst full details are still to be established, our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues of the operative involved.

ADVERT

“The wellbeing of anybody working on our sites is absolutely paramount to us.

“A full investigation will be carried out, and we are working with all of the relevant authorities in this regard.

“We have closed the site to allow the investigation to be concluded.”

Ten residents die in care home coronavirus outbreak

The first death at Thorney Croft Care Home in Stranraer was reported earlier this month.

© Google Maps 2020
Thorney Croft Care Home: Ten residents have died following a coronavirus outbreak.

Ten residents have died in a Covid outbreak at a care home in Dumfries and Galloway.

The first death at Thorney Croft Care Home in Stranraer was reported earlier this month.

On Thursday, Dumfries and Galloway health and social care partnership confirmed a further nine deaths have occurred, with four in the past week.

A total of 45 staff members and 45 residents have also tested positive for the virus.

ADVERT

Community Integrated Care – the charity that runs the home – said all necessary steps were being taken to manage the outbreak.

Martin McGuigan, managing director of Community Integrated Care, said: “Our teams continue to work tirelessly, alongside the local authority and public health teams, to implement extensive infection prevention measures to manage this outbreak. 

“Our hearts go out to the loved ones of our residents, as well as our colleagues. 

“We are continuing to provide practical and emotional support to everyone at this very difficult time.”


Swinney: Two-week notice for schools reopening ‘ideal’

The education secretary said he hopes to give parents and teachers as much notice as possible.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Schools: Two weeks notice would be ideal, says Swinney.

The education secretary said he “ideally” wants to give teachers, pupils and parents two weeks’ warning before reopening schools, but suggested it may happen with less notice.

Schools have been closed to the majority of pupils since before Christmas and are not expected to fully reopen until at least mid-February due to the high levels of coronavirus transmission.

Vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers are continuing to be taught in class, while the rest learn remotely from home.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Thursday, John Swinney said he hopes to give “as much notice and as much certainty as possible” about any return to face-to-face teaching.

ADVERT

He added: “Ideally I would like to give two weeks’ notice to everybody involved about our return to face-to-face learning, but obviously we may give shorter notice than that if we believe the opportunity exists for such an approach to be taken.

“We’ll try to give as much notice and as much clarity at the earliest possible opportunity, but it will depend on two factors – the scientific advice available to us about the impact of the virus on particular age groups and cohorts of pupils, and it will depend on the general prevalence of coronavirus within our society.”

It follows comments by UK Government education secretary Gavin Williamson, who said he would give schools in England a “clear two-week notice period” so they are able to properly prepare to welcome all pupils back.

Mr Swinney also again said a phased return to in-class teaching is being considered by the Scottish Government’s education recovery group.

ADVERT

He said: “There is much more likely to be a phased learning approach rather than the approach we took in August when all pupils returned in one go.

“It is much more likely that we will bring different cohorts of pupils, and we’re exploring what might be the groupings that could be brought back within the context of the scientific and clinical advice that is available to us.”

Explaining the factors that will influence the Government’s decisions on the further reopening of schools, Mr Swinney suggested falling numbers of infections and hospital capacity will be key.

“If we were to, for example, reopen schools to more pupils, there would be more human interaction, therefore giving rise to the possibility the virus may spread and that could potentially increase caseload within hospitals,” he said.

“We’ve got to look in detail at the effect of the virus – but particularly the new variant of the virus – on children and young people themselves and their ability to transmit the virus.

“What we knew of the original variant is that, with the youngest children, there was really very, very limited possibilities of transmission of the virus and very limited effect to the virus on the youngest of children.

“It got more challenging the older children and young people became.

ADVERT

“But we don’t yet have enough clinical clarity about what the effect is of a new variant on children, young people, and particularly on older young people – from 16 to 18-year-olds, for example.”


Murderer left elderly landlady to ‘die on the kitchen floor’

Roman Frackiewicz assaulted his 77-year-old victim, leaving her with 14 fractured ribs, a broken breastbone and collapsed lungs.

Police Scotland / Paul Devlin via SNS Group
Court: Roman Frackiewicz was convicted of murder.

A lodger who brutally murdered his elderly landlady in a sustained attack that ruptured her heart is facing life imprisonment.

Roman Frackiewicz, 44, assaulted his 77-year-old victim in her home, leaving her with 14 fractured ribs, a broken breastbone and collapsed lungs after drinking vodka.

Jadwiga Szczygielska let him stay at her flat after he was convicted of a domestic assault in 2018 and a court imposed a non-harassment order preventing him contacting the victim of the attack.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard the priest at Mrs Szczygielska’s church asked her to take him in.

ADVERT

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC told the court: “She gave him her bedroom and extended great kindness towards him.”

But on April 17 last year, Frackiewicz attacked Mrs Szczygielska at her Edinburgh home in Pirniefield Bank, Seafield.

Mrs Szczygielska came to Scotland from Poland in 2013 to live with her son. He had a workplace accident and returned to Poland but she stayed on in Scotland where she had made many friends.

She continued to work as a childminder and sent money back to her family in Poland. 

ADVERT

Mr Prentice said her son, Krzysztof, “indicated he could not find words to express how this terrible crime affects his life and his family, observing that this traumatic event will be with him for the rest of his life”.  

Mr Prentice told jurors that Edinburgh council refuse collector Frackiewicz had consumed a “substantial amount of vodka” before attacking Mrs Szczygielska after a quarrel broke out.

The court heard the injuries suffered by the victim were of a type found in serious road traffic collisions.

The jury was told that the rupture to her heart could have proved fatal, but that the fractures and lung injury she suffered could also have killed her.

Mr Prentice said: “The Crown is unable to specify precisely what was done to her because there were only two people in that flat when those injuries were sustained. The accused himself said nobody came to the flat.” 

Frackiewicz, who is also a Polish national, came to the UK in 2012 and after moving in with his victim paid her £200 a month while he slept in the bedroom at the flat and she bedded down on a sofa.

He had denied murdering Mrs Szczygielska by repeatedly inflicting or causing to be inflicted blunt force injuries to her head and body by means to the prosecutor unknown. However, he was unanimously convicted of the murder by the jury.

ADVERT

The morning after the crime he contacted an employee with a community alarm service and said he needed an ambulance as he thought she was dead.

He phoned an acquaintance and said: “Jadwiga has passed away.” He later claimed it was “probably a heart attack”.

Following the verdict on Thursday, Lord Braid told him: “You have been convicted by the jury of the crime of murder and there will be only one sentence which I can impose, which is life imprisonment.”

However, Lord Braid adjourned sentencing on Frackiewicz until next month for the preparation of a background report as he has to set the minimum term the murderer must serve in jail before he becomes eligible to apply for release on parole.  

Frackiewicz, who has two previous convictions for assault, was remanded in custody until his next appearance at the High Court in Aberdeen on February 18.

The judge told jurors that some of the evidence in the trial was “disturbing to hear and to look at”.

Following Frackiewicz’s conviction, detective inspector Bob Williamson said: “Jadwiga Szczygielska was a generous and caring woman who was well liked within the community. 

“She allowed Roman Frackiewicz to stay in her home at a time when he had nowhere else to live. 

“Frackiewicz repaid Jadwiga by taking advantage of her within her own home and abusing her kindness. 

“We will never know why he chose to attack her that night but his actions were violent, brutal and cruel resulting in the catastrophic injuries suffered by Jadwiga. 

“He left her to die on her kitchen floor while he went to his bed. 

“This guilty verdict will never bring Jadwiga back but I sincerely hope it will bring some sense of justice to her family.”


Charities call for Scottish Child Payment to be doubled

The Scottish End Child Poverty Coalition is calling for the payment to be increased to £20 per week.

Justin Paget via Getty Images
Payment: Charities call for payment to be doubled.

The new Scottish Child Payment should be doubled to try and stem a “rising tide of child poverty”, according to a coalition of charities.

The £10 per week payment for eligible families is being introduced from next month as part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle child poverty.

Parents and carers who receive other welfare support such as Universal Credit or unemployment benefits are able to apply for the payment for each child under the age of six, with the benefit being rolled out for all qualifying under-16s by 2022.

But the Scottish End Child Poverty Coalition is calling for the payment to be increased to £20 per week, arguing it could help lift another 20,000 children out of poverty.

ADVERT

The group of 14 charities in Scotland has published a manifesto of demands ahead of the May’s Holyrood election, amid concerns the Government’s current policies are not enough to meet poverty reduction targets.

Launching the manifesto, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland director John Dickie said: “Even before Covid-19, almost one in four children in Scotland were growing up in the grip of poverty.

“The pandemic has pulled families even deeper into poverty, while many more have been swept into poverty for the first time.

“A rising tide of child poverty now threatens to overwhelm many in our communities.

ADVERT

“That’s why we have set out this range of measures that would help to stem that tide, by putting much-needed cash into the pockets of families who are struggling to stay afloat.

“We urge all political parties to commit to the action we’ve set out, and to use the next Scottish Parliament to loosen the grip of poverty on the lives of Scotland’s children.”

The coalition of charities is also calling for a range of other financial support across the social security sector, including increases to the value of Best Start Grants, School Clothing Grants and more funding for crisis support through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

A “child poverty-focused labour market policy” is also required, with specific actions to tackle the gender pay gap, according to the manifesto.

Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director of the Close the Gap charity, said: “The existing inequalities women face in the labour market means they’ve been hardest hit by Covid-19 job disruption.

“The pandemic has starkly illuminated the link between women’s in-work poverty and child poverty. Women who were already struggling are now under enormous financial pressure as they and their families are pushed into further and deeper poverty.

“The End Child Poverty Coalition manifesto calls on Scotland’s political parties to commit to bold action to reduce child poverty.

ADVERT

“Close the Gap welcomes the focus on substantive action to address women’s inequality in the labour market including tackling women’s low pay and boosting the provision of funded childcare.

“Ensuring economic recovery policymaking prioritises measures to build a labour market that works for women is a necessary step in tackling the growing child poverty crisis.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We continue to provide support to people who need it most and tackle poverty and inequality head on.

“In 2019-20 we invested nearly £2bn in support for low-income households and have committed over £500m to support people and communities impacted by the Covid pandemic.

“This investment includes over £130m to tackle food insecurity, with free school meal provision continued during school holidays up to Easter 2021, and a £100 Covid Winter Hardship Payment for children who receive free school meals on the basis of low income.

“From next month we will commence payments of the new Scottish Child Payment for children from low-income households under six – worth £10 per child per week.

“This new payment, together with the support offered through Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, offers around £5,000 of financial support by the time a child turns six – and is available for each and every child in a household.

“The UK Government must make tackling poverty a priority, starting with maintaining the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and matching our ambitions by introducing a benefit similar to our flagship Scottish Child Payment to lift people out of poverty.”


Fishing could be ‘destroyed’ without intervention, MPs warn

MPs queried whether the meat industry was ‘in jeopardy’ following reports of products sitting in lorry parks waiting for customs.

Brian Lawless via PA Wire
MPs also queried whether the meat industry was ‘in jeopardy’ following reports of products sitting in lorry parks waiting for customs clearance.

The entire fishing industry could be destroyed if ministers do not fix customs clearance technology at the border, the environment secretary has been warned.

SNP MP Stuart C McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) told George Eustice that Scottish seafood companies were concerned they were “going out of business” with their produce “sitting in lorry parks in Kent waiting for customs clearance”.

His comments came as other MPs queried whether the meat industry was also “in jeopardy” after newspapers reported this week that pigs heads were “rotting in Rotterdam”.

But Mr Eustice assured MPs that while there were “occasionally delays at the border”, in general, “goods are flowing”.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said a £23 million fund had been established to help exporters who were struggling with the paperwork (Aaron Chown/PA).
ADVERT

Speaking in the Commons during environment departmental questions, Mr McDonald said: “Scotland’s high-quality seafood producers are warning that they’re going out of business.

“They can’t have their products sitting in lorry parks in Kent waiting for customs clearance, those products have to reach market fresh.

“So what is the Government doing to change the procedures and fix the technology to ensure an entire industry isn’t destroyed, and will there be ongoing compensation offered to business until this is sorted, or was that a one-off?”

Mr Eustice said his department was ‘working daily with the fishing sector to tackle and iron out any particular issues’ (Danny Lawson/PA).

Mr Eustice responded: “We have announced a £23m fund to help those exporters who struggled with the paperwork in these initial weeks.

ADVERT

“We’ve also been working daily with the fishing sector to tackle and iron out any particular issues that they’ve encountered.”

He added that the problems were simply “teething issues”.

Meanwhile, shadow environment minister Daniel Zeichner told the Commons: “I fear the Secretary of State is living in a parallel universe.

“He must have seen the headlines ‘pig heads rotting in Rotterdam’ as Brexit delays hit the British meat industry,” and asked if the meat industry was “in jeopardy”.

Mr Eustice said: “He is wrong about that actually. Goods are flowing, particularly when it comes to lamb, which is our principal meat export. Dairy goods are also flowing.

“Yes, there are occasionally delays at the border as border officials in France and The Netherlands get used to these new processes, but we are intervening in all such instances to help the businesses concerned.”

The Environment Secretary also told MPs that an agreement between the UK and Norway over access to each other’s fishing waters during the next year could “conclude within the next couple of weeks”.

ADVERT

Mr Eustice said that last week an interim agreement was reached between the two countries to allow British fishers to catch a quota of 2,750 tonnes of cod in waters around Svalbard, Norway, up to March 31.

Responding to Labour MP Emma Hardy (Hull West and Hessle), he told MPs: “We would anticipate that these negotiations would conclude within the next couple of weeks and then access for Arctic cod, should that be agreed in the agreement, could be resumed.”

MPs were also informed that the UK Government was conducting bilateral negotiations with Ireland over easing pet travel restrictions between Great Britain and the island of Ireland.

Since January 1, the UK has “part two listed status” under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, meaning that people travelling from Great Britain with their pets and assistance dogs need to follow new requirements in order to travel to the EU and Northern Ireland.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) said the current situation caused “challenges” for pet owners, particularly in relation to guide dogs.

Mr Eustice replied: “The primary purpose of these pet travel regulations is to control the spread of rabies and both Ireland and Great Britain have a very similar and very high health status on rabies having not had it in dogs previously.

“We, therefore, do think that there should be easements on this particular provision, we have argued with the (European) Commission that we should be listed in part one but we are continuing to make those bilateral negotiations with Ireland a priority.”

You're up to date

You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?