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All women must have access to perinatal mental health service

Health Education England wants specialist health visitors available within all local services

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

All women and their partners should have access to a specialist health visitor in perinatal and infant mental health (PIMH) through their local health visiting service, according to Health Education England (HEE). In its new guidance, published this morning, it said PIMHs have a vital role in caring for the thousands of new mothers and fathers who experience mental health problems.

HEE said research from the London School of Economics estimated the long-term cost to society of mental health problems in the perinatal period to be about £8bn for each one-year cohort of births in the UK, and it pointed to evidence from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that more than 10% of women have mental health problems during pregnancy and after their baby’s birth, equivalent to about 70,000 affected families. New fathers can also have difficulties, it added.

HEE said in its report that if mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders such as panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, postpartum psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder are not quickly addressed by professionals with additional training, they can have a “devastating impact”, sometimes life-threatening, on women and their families.

The report’s authors found that although there has been a significant increase in the health visitor workforce over recent years, there are still few PIMH posts in health visiting teams across England. The working group recommended that every health visiting service should include at least one PIMH.

In her foreword to the report, HEE’s director of nursing and deputy director of education and quality Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt commented: “Perinatal mental health problems are now understood to have a significant public health impact. Without early identification and treatment such problems can also affect the mental health and development of infants and children …

“Health visitors, through their ‘universal’ service, are best placed to identify those families requiring additional support, especially where the mother or father may be suffering from perinatal mental illness, or where the parent-infant bond is compromised. However, health visitors have many other roles to fulfil during this critical period of every child’s life and would benefit from specialist support in this challenging arena.”

Report author Sara Rance, consultant child psychotherapist and parent infant psychotherapist, added: “Commissioning at least one specialist post for a health visitor in PIMH within every health visiting service is a crucial step in building the multi-disciplinary teams and pathways we need to deliver proper perinatal mental healthcare in England.”

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