Last week, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance(MMHA) reported that one quarter of pregnant women were being denied access to perinatal mental health care, at a time when they’re most likely to develop a mental illness. Today, the NHS has confirmed they will rectify this by providing specialist perinatal mental health services in across the entirety of England by April 2019.
The health service has announced it is spending £23 million on community pre- and postnatal services to correct the current postcode lottery that many women face. Previous research had found that 62 of the 235 NHS clinical commissioning group areas across the UK offered women zero support from dedicated perinatal personnel.
With 20% of women who are pregnant or have given birth within a year suffering with mental health issues (25% according to King's College London), and suicide being the leading cause of death amongst these women, the services are vital in ensuring women are given the support they need. Dr. Alain Gregoire, chair of the MMHA, told The Guardian last week:
‘These services help women who have been left severely disabled, who maybe cannot get out of bed or function normally, or who have been left suicidal, or at extremely high risk of taking their lives, as a result of mental health problems associated with pregnancy and the postnatal period,’
However, the NHS’s new budget for perinatal mental health care will aim to provide these essential services to all women, with their own 2014 research finding that only 3% of the country had good access to the services. Offering assessments and care for women with complex or severe mental health problems during the perinatal period, they will also give pre-conception advice for women dealing with mental illness or those who’ve had a history of it.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England, said: ‘Mental ill health doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time and it disrupts life not just for mums but the whole family, which is why we are absolutely committed to driving forward improvements in care and ensuring this important area of mental health continues to get the attention it deserves.’
The new services come alongside further commitments by the NHS to combat the postcode lottery often typical of women’s health issues. They have announced plans to open four new Mother and Baby Units throughout 2018/19 in places where access to services like these has historically been withheld. The eight-bedded units provide specialist care and support for mothers.
Gregoire commented on the new development, stating that the ‘rapid, effective and widespread’ transformation in services is unprecedented in his 30 years of working for the NHS.
‘These new, top quality services have led directly to life-saving improvements in care for women and babies that will hugely reduce immediate and long-term suffering. The new developments look set to eliminate a long-standing and serious postcode lottery and will undoubtedly make England the world leader in mental health care for mothers and babies.
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