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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!