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New mothers to get more help with mental health

£40m fund to set up specialist community mental health services for mothers

Mark Gould

Monday, 28 November 2016

The NHS has pledged to provide more support for pregnant women and new mothers suffering mental illness. 

One in five women experience depression, anxiety or in some cases psychosis during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth and costs of perinatal mental ill health are estimated at £8.1 billion each year in the UK, almost £10,000 per birth.

Some £40 million will be allocated to 20 areas of the country to fund new specialist community mental health services for mothers in the immediate run up to and after birth, and help reach 30,000 more women a year by 2021. A further £20 million will be allocated next year.

The funding for will see new or bigger teams in those areas providing specialist care for all new and expectant mothers with severe mental ill health like severe post-natal depression. It will fund new perinatal consultants, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and nursery nurses as well as community peer support for mums, babies and families. There will also be more buddying and telephone support where mums who have had experience of similar issues can help those in need.

Perinatal Community Mental Health Services provide specialist care for women with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or psychosis while pregnant or after birth, responding quickly if they become ill, and helping minimise risks to mum and baby, for example by giving medication advice, providing lifestyle advice or counselling support or following an inpatient stay promoting hope and recovery.

They also see and treat women who have been identified as being at high risk of developing serious illness both at home and in the maternity unit during pregnancy and after delivery as well as pre-conception counselling. NHS England is also commissioning four new mother and baby units (MBUs).

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens will reveal full details of the new initiatives at a conference run by the mental health charity Mind tomorrow.

He is also due to reveal a new recommended standard that says anyone who walks through the front door of A&E or is on a hospital ward in a mental health crisis should be seen by a specialist mental health professional within an hour of being referred, and within four hours they should have been properly assessed in a skilled and compassionate way, with the correct next steps for their care planned in partnership with them.

In advance of the conference, Mr Stevens, said: “For most parents having a baby is one of the happiest times of your life. But for tens of thousands of new mums, this experience is sadly overshadowed by severe pregnancy-related mental health problems. Now the NHS is taking concrete action to get these mothers and families the specialist mental health support they need.

“It is also the case that many other patients with mental health crises end up using A&E services as their first port of call, so today we are kick-starting the programme to expand the seven-day availability of specialist psychiatrist and mental health staff in our major A&Es.”

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), welcomed the new investment. She said that around one in five women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after delivering their baby and one quarter of all maternal deaths between six weeks and a year after childbirth are related to mental health problems.

"Despite these alarming figures, in almost half of the UK pregnant women and new mothers have no access to specialist maternal mental health services and only 3% of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have a maternal mental health service strategy.

“This initiative will not only provide invaluable support to women in the community, but also ensure that women can be referred to specialist services in a timely manner. Buddying and telephone support initiatives will also ensure that women feel able to share their own experiences and prevent feelings of isolation. 

“Healthcare professionals are often the first point of contact that a woman suffering with mental health problems reaches out to and we must ensure that all staff involved in the care of women during pregnancy and the first year after birth have relevant education and training in perinatal mental health – this includes both communication and listening skills. Our role should increasingly be about empowering women to make decisions about their care and in supporting women to help themselves.

“Giving parity of esteem to mental and physical health is crucial and we have some way to go in addressing the stigma associated with mental health. Many women often fear being seen as a ‘bad mother’ and having their child taken away from them. Women are frequently made to feel guilty that they are to blame and that they have failed to be the ‘perfect mother.’ No one is to blame for developing a mental health illness and as a society we need to be reinforcing this message constantly.

“There is a wealth of data, evidence and guidance on good practice and it is encouraging news that both Government and NHS England are now focussing on putting in place practical steps to address the problem we face in the UK.”

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