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New mothers must have proper postnatal checks, warn GPs

NCT and Royal College of GPs call for appropriate funding for mental and physical health and six-week checks

Louise Prime

Friday, 06 September 2019

The six-week postnatal check must be fully funded so that new mothers are given their own appointment to discuss their mental and physical wellbeing, the NCT has demanded after finding that about half currently have less than three minutes to do so once their baby has been checked. The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) echoed the charity’s calls for proper funding so that GPs have time to fully explore new mothers’ own needs and health.

The NCT reported that although the recommended six-week postnatal check-up with a health professional is supposed to uncover both mothers’ and babies’ health difficulties, research has shown that:

  • Nearly a third (31%) of new mothers had less than three minutes to discuss their own health at the appointment, as most of the time was devoted to the baby.
  • About one in six (16%) mothers were given no time at all to discuss their own health, with the whole appointment focused on their baby.
  • A quarter (25%) of mothers said they were not asked about their emotional or mental health during the appointment.

The NCT published these new statistics as part of its Hidden Half campaign, which is demanding that the government provides full, specific funding and guidance to enable health professionals to provide better six-week postnatal check-ups – so that all new mothers with a mental health problem can access the treatment available. It wants health professionals to have time to give all new mothers their own appointment, rather than “squeezing it in with an examination of their baby”. It pointed out that, currently, health professionals are not funded to give mothers a six-week check; and without funding, many GP surgeries are unable to provide specific maternal appointments.

The charity’s head of knowledge Sarah McMullen commented: “Many new mums don’t find it easy to admit they are struggling so it’s impossible to make them feel comfortable enough to discuss their concerns in less than three minutes.

“It’s vital mothers are given adequate opportunity to discuss any health problems to prevent them from getting worse. If they aren’t given the support they need at this crucial time it can have a devastating impact on the whole family.”

Kent GP Dr Stephanie de Giorgio added: “As a GP who’s looked after postnatal women for years, I know many of them can find it difficult to talk to us for all sorts of reasons. Dedicated time for them is vital so we can find out who is struggling and let them know how to seek help if they start to find things too difficult. 
 
“The only way that health professionals are going to be able to do this is if the government and NHS England agree to fund an appointment solely for new mothers.”

The RCGP said new mothers can have many physical and mental health concerns, so it is essential that they feel comfortable discussing these with their GP and other healthcare professionals, and that they receive appropriate support. College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “The routine six-week postnatal check, usually offered to all new mothers in addition to the formal health check of their newborn baby, should be a time for the GP to be able to talk to women about issues affecting their mental and physical health and wellbeing and take steps to address them.

“But, even though six-week checks are generally longer than the standard 10-minute appointment, it is still incredibly hard for GPs to explore all the different factors potentially affecting a new mother’s health within the time constraints – particularly at a time when general practice is facing intense resource and workforce pressures.

“Checks for new mothers need to be funded and promoted in the same way that checks for newborns are so that GPs can spend the time they feel they need to with both the baby and its mother. We hope today’s calls from the National Childbirth Trust for the government to fund checks for all new mothers are given serious consideration so that we can continue to give all of our patients, including new mothers, the care they need and deserve.”

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