NHS England pledges specialist mental health services for new mums in every part of the country

NHS England has confirmed that new and expectant mums will be able to access specialist perinatal mental health community services in every part of the country by April next year.

The health service is now spending £23 million rolling out the second wave of community perinatal services to underserved parts of the country and is on course to achieve full geographical coverage, when as recently as 2014 it was estimated that only three per cent of the country had good access to perinatal mental health care.

This funding forms part of a package of measures, worth a total of £365m by 2021, to transform specialist perinatal services so that at least 30,000 additional women can access evidence based treatment that is closer to home and when they need it, through specialist community services and inpatient mother and baby units.

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

Teams can be made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, nursery nurses and administrative staff, who all work together to provide a comprehensive service to mums, depending on what their individual needs are.

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.

“Women with lived in experience can play a pivotal role when it comes to shaping the services for others and influencing how we plan and deliver care effectively as possible. What we are now starting to see is evidence based NHS services growing in parts of the country where there used to be limited or no provision at all. Thanks to a continuing investment in services and a concerted effort from dedicated staff up and down the country, we are making huge strides forward and sooner rather than later we will turn England’s specialist perinatal mental health map green.”

The new funding which has just been agreed, builds on £40 million previously allocated to 20 sites in 2016 to establish new or expand current specialist perinatal mental health community services – with over 7,000 mums accessing expert care and treatment so far. While some areas are taking a phased approach to the development of services, a plan for full provision has been promised by 2021.

NHS England is also pressing ahead with plans to open four new, eight-bedded mother and baby units (MBUs), throughout 2018/19, which will provide specialist care and support to mothers in parts of the country where access has historically been a problem. A major milestone for mental health has just been reached in Devon, following the opening of an interim four bedded unit last month, in advance of a full new unit, which is already under construction, opening next year.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder and CEO, said: “Mumsnet’s campaign for Better Postnatal Care has highlighted the breadth of perinatal mental health vulnerabilities, and has shown how many women struggle on with symptoms that make them feel miserable – or worse. Extra provision in this crucial area is so important and we hope it makes a real difference in supporting pregnant women and new mothers.”

Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “In over 30 years working for the NHS I have never seen any national programme produce such a rapid, effective and widespread transformation in services. 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 announced today in England 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.”

Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities Jackie Doyle-Price said: “I am determined to give every mother and baby the best start in life. That’s why this is such a welcome announcement – we are providing £365 million to transform these services so that everyone, no matter where they live, can get specialist care if they need it.”

Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We are delighted to have been able to work closely with NHS England and HEE to help deliver the much-needed perinatal psychiatric workforce of the future.

“That 100 per cent of the psychiatrists who completed our perinatal bursary scheme now have, or will have, perinatal consultant psychiatric jobs in their local areas is fantastic. This, together with the new wave of targeted funding, will help ensure that new and expectant mums will be able access specialist perinatal community services in every part of England by April 2019.”

Practical new guidance has also been published to help local health care systems as they put their plans into action and support community teams to deliver high quality and safe care.

The Perinatal Mental Health Care Pathways aims to improve access and quality in specialist perinatal mental health services as they become available. It sets out five new examples that promote improved patient treatment and care – depending on the mental health problem and the phase of pregnancy or the postnatal period – all of which put mums and children firmly at the centre of the plans. Shared expertise, good practice and local delivery can all be supported through the development and expansion of the 12 clinically-led regional perinatal mental health networks across England.

One in five women will experience a mental health problem during their pregnancy and in the first year after birth, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most common. As well as being crucial to new mothers, newborns and their families, perinatal services, alongside other treatments for common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, can play an important role in ensuring mental health is integrated into overall healthcare at the earliest possible stage of life.