Beefed up mental health care for new and expectant mums across England

Author: Caroline White

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Specialist perinatal community services have now been rolled out nationwide, so that mums and mums-to-be with mental health issues should be able to access high quality care much closer to home, NHS England has announced.

Five years ago, almost half the country had no access to specialist community perinatal mental health treatment, but there are now services in every one of the 44 local NHS areas, and plans to develop them further.

The expansion coincides with the opening of four new mother and baby units which will enable the most seriously ill women can receive residential care without being separated from their babies in every region.

Three eight-bedded units have opened in Kent, Lancashire, and East Anglia, with a further unit in Devon now open. NHS England plans to increase the national capacity further to more than 160 beds.

Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director said: “Mental ill health during pregnancy or that affects bonding with a new baby can be devastating, which is why the NHS has invested in better care for expectant and new mums, with at least 9,000 extra women getting treatment last year.

“As well as expanding access to world-leading talking therapy for anyone who needs it – the NHS Long Term Plan is further ramping up specialist perinatal care for every part of the country, offering tailored support to dads and partners and extending care to cover the first two years of a child’s life.”

Specialist community perinatal mental health teams can offer psychiatric and psychological assessments and care for women with complex or severe mental health problems during pregnancy and early motherhood. They can also provide pre-conception advice for women with a current or past severe mental illness who are planning a pregnancy.

The aim is that by 2023/4 an additional 54,000 women each year with moderate and complex, to severe mental health difficulties should get the right care, at the right time, and as close to home as possible.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, chair of the perinatal faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “This is fantastic news for all new and expectant mums, and for their families. One in five new mothers will experience some form of mental health difficulty and if left untreated, perinatal mental health problems can be devastating.

“A previous lack of specialist services has not only meant that some women couldn’t access the treatment they needed, but it also led to mothers and babies often being separated at a key time in their child’s development. Providing everyone with access to the right care in the right place has always been our hope, and it’s now finally being realised in England. Hopefully this will cause a tipping point for other nations too.”

She added: “We now need to focus on building the perinatal mental health workforce whose job it will be to deliver these vital services.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, welcomed the expansion of services. “It is important progress and shows we are on the right path to providing vital outstanding care for all parents and prospective parents up and down the country.”

But he echoed concerns about capacity: “There is still some way to go, however, not least in making sure we have the right staff in the right numbers in the right places,” he said.

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery similarly welcomed the move, which she described as “a welcome step towards realising the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.”

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