NEW fathers have been described this week as treating an Edinburgh maternity ward "like a hotel".

Midwives at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary took their concerns to the Evening News after feeling their complaints had been ignored and brushed off by management.

They described overcrowded conditions in the 24-bed ward where fathers were staying overnight and sleeping on floors or chairs. According to the staff, dads were using the maternity ward's staff kitchen facilities, asking to be fed by the NHS or ordering takeaways to be delivered to the unit.

READ MORE: Father treating Edinburgh maternity ward 'like a hotel' 

In addition to the 24 mothers and babies there at any one time, the midwives said there were typically up 10 fathers - sometimes more - who had opted to stay rather than going home outside of normal visiting hours.

This presented a hygiene and infection control problem which put patient safety at risk, said the midwives, adding that some new mothers felt uncomfortable changing their clothes or breastfeeding with so many men in the ward who were not their partners.

The claims have caused something of an outcry among men who felt they were being disparaged and their role as a support for mothers dismissed.

One of the midwives quoted said: "Childbirth and postnatal period should be about women and babies and we’re having to bend over backwards for men treating it like a hotel."

The salient point in this controversy is that the model being rolled out in Edinburgh is expected to be taken forward nationally, as part of the recommendations in the Best Start maternity review.

The five-year plan states that fathers and partners "should be actively encouraged and supported to become an integral part of all aspects of maternal and newborn care".

The teething problems in Edinburgh are a lesson for other areas.

In the 1960s, the vast majority of fathers were absent at childbirth - or "hiding in the pub" as one maternity historian put it. Even today, when the vast majority of dads attend, researchers said one in three feel left out during pregnancy and sidelined at the birth.

READ MORE: Sorry Cheryl, but families do need fathers 

The language of the midwives was unfortunate, and probably unfair, in that it cements an outdated stereotype of men as surplus to requirements as caregivers.

The Best Start review is right to recommend hands-on involvement round-the-clock from the outset - not just at during visiting hours.

But the midwives are also raising very fair points about overcrowding, privacy and lack of facilities.

Like a lot of things in the NHS, a good idea is being let down by a lack of resources to adequately support it. That must change.