Ensuring families get the right care at the right time

Mother and Baby Units admit women when they are at their lowest ebb and discharge them with renewed hope; Dr Giles Berrisford explains how they do it.

This year four new Mother and Baby Units (MBU) were opened across the country – supporting new mums with severe mental health issues and making sure they can stay close to their babies and families, while receiving the care they need in the perinatal period.

The Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit opened in Chorley this month – and it is an important milestone at the halfway point of our national programme for perinatal mental health. This eight-bedded unit will support women and families living across Lancashire and Cumbria who would otherwise have had to travel many miles to receive care when experiencing the severest forms of perinatal mental illness, such as postpartum psychosis. The unit is supported by an outreach team, providing a range of advice and services to help prevent relapses and readmissions. The design and development of Ribblemere has been a joint affair between Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Action on Postpartum Psychosis and local women and their partners with lived experience of perinatal mental illness. The result is a fantastic service that combines clinical safety with a homely, nurturing environment for new mothers, babies and families.

Ribblemere is now the 18th MBU in England and the third new unit to open this year. It follows hot on the heels of the Dartford MBU which first opened in August and which has already seen all eight beds occupied – showing the great need for perinatal mental health care within its local area.

The Exeter MBU opened just over six months ago in a temporary four-bedded accommodation. It will move to its permanent purpose-built eight-bedded space in April next year. The unit has already admitted 17 women since opening, 15 of whom would previously have had to travel over 100 miles to access the next closest MBU. In addition, its fully functioning outreach team has helped even more mothers and families to remain at home despite their mental health issues, by supporting the local crisis and home treatment teams.

The fourth new unit is on course to open early next year in Norwich and already has its outreach team up and running, supporting local families and developing important links and networks across the area.

To set up a mother and baby unit from scratch is an enormous task.  All four areas have been extremely industrious in designing and developing the physical building, as well as recruiting and training a whole new team of perinatal experts, including psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, nursery nurses, who build up critical experience whilst waiting for the new units to open. This has only been possible with a lot of hard work and with support from an army of women and families with lived experience who have been dedicated to developing these services.

The creation of so many new units in such a short space of time was extremely ambitious – but it is an ambition which is well on course to being achieved. This has been fuelled by the knowledge of how great an impact these additional units, and the additional beds in existing units, will have on the lives and experiences of women and families who need these services.

As a consultant lucky enough to work on the Birmingham Mother and Baby Unit, I get to see every day how these units radically change the lives and the life prospects of those who are admitted into them. We admit women when they are at their lowest ebb, when life feels pointless and at the time of greatest chaos, risk and change: we discharge them with new renewed hope – for themselves, for the babies they cherish and their families. It’s a great pleasure to welcome these new units to the MBU family, safe in the knowledge that even more people can access the benefits of great perinatal mental health care when they need it and closer to home.

Well done to Ribblemere – and to all the new MBU Teams!

Dr Giles Berrisford

Dr Giles Berrisford is Associate National Clinical Director for Perinatal Mental Health for NHS England.

Dr Giles Berrisford is the Clinical Lead at the Birmingham Perinatal Mental Health Service at BSMHFT – leading one of the largest inpatient Mother and Baby Units in the country. He is the Chair of the national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) – working closely with women and families directly affected by postpartum psychosis – the most severe form of perinatal mental illness. He is committed to bringing about improved access to maternal mental health services and reducing the unwarranted variation in care currently seen across the country.

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  1. Sabine says:

    Thank you for those facts Dr. Giles.
    I have had PPP in 2010 in Somerset. My treatment in a Psychiatric mixed gender hospital was in many aspects “unacceptable and unreasonable”. The nearest MBU on offer at the time was in Manchester. My after care improved, yet I have had no contact with compassionate mums or knowledgable specialists in this field until I discovered APP 5 years later.
    Somerset is completely skinned!!! They did not get the first wave of fundings for perinatal mental health.
    The biggest problem is the danger of isolation and lonliness for mums with mental health issues and the lack of of access to third sectosr within the area. (many closures). Facilitating opportunities in order to nurture mums back to health requires funding.
    I am a volunteer with APP, but have been also passionately involved in the family stakeholder group for the MBU Exeter.
    “The Nurture Shed” in Middlezoy is trying to evolve & support mums with mental health issues through creative workshops.

  2. MOIRA DENVIR says:

    How can we ensure that these changes are made in NI?