28/06/2018 11:39 BST | Updated 28/06/2018 11:39 BST

Mums With Mental Health Issues Are Being Separated From Their Babies, Warn Doctors

The lack of perinatal beds in the UK has been called 'a disgrace'.

New mums with mental health problems are being separated from their babies when seeking support, doctors have warned.

Speaking at the British Medical Association’s annual meeting in Brighton, Dr Kelly Cruickshank, a psychiatrist from Salford Royal Hospital, said this is due to a lack of beds where women can receive mental health care, with their newborns by their side.

“The reason we struggle to find beds, is that there are 131 perinatal beds in the entirety of the UK,” said Dr Cruickshank, The Telegraph reports. “There are no inpatient perinatal beds in Northern Ireland nor in Wales. This is a disgrace.” 

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Dr Cruickshank recalled a time she saw a new mother come into A&E because she felt unsafe due to her mental thoughts. She was happy to be admitted to hospital until she was told she was going to have to leave her baby behind. “We were left to manage this vulnerable high-risk woman in the community,” she said. “We are failing them and we must do more.”

The BMA voted that mothers and babies should never be separated because of a lack of beds. They believe separating a mother and a baby could worsen the mental health of the woman and that it could take her longer to recover if she has feelings of guilt about leaving her baby. They called for more mother and baby units throughout the UK, so there is provision to help women when they come into hospital for support for their mental health. 

Commenting on the news, Dr Raja Gangopadhyay, a consultant obstetrician with a special interest in Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) told HuffPost UK: “It’s absolutely vital that mothers with mental health conditions could stay with their babies when they receive treatment in the hospital. This helps in the recovery process and ensures good attachment. Secure attachment is now considered to be an important factor for the child’s development in the forthcoming years.

“We need more Mother And Baby Units across the country so that mothers get appropriate specialist perinatal mental health care when they are very unwell.”

Janet Fyle, Royal College of Midwives’ professional policy advisor agreed and said the RCM has been campaigning for more beds along with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA). “We know the best way forward is to have the mother and baby together, depending on circumstances,” she said. “We need to continue putting pressure on the Government.” 

However, Fyle also said women’s individual circumstances should be taken into account. “Some women may want to stay at home in the community where their condition can be monitored and we must ensure they have psychiatrists and specialists to support them,” she said. “Sometimes they may need to be in hospitals but others may be best suited in the community.” 

We would encourage parents at the earliest opportunity to speak with their midwives and/or GP and health visitors to take on any support which is offered."A spokesperson for postnatal depression support charity PANDAS

NHS England announced plans in May 2018 for four new eight-bed mother and baby units to be built by April 2019, as well as more investment in community perinatal mental health services. They said a major milestone for mental health has just been reached in Devon, following the opening of a four-bedded unit last month, in advance of a full new unit, which is already under construction, opening in 2019.

The announcement formed part of a package of measures intended to transform specialist perinatal services so that at least 30,000 additional women can access treatment that is closer to home and when they need it. “Mental ill health doesn’t discriminate,” said Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England, said at the time. ”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.”

Commenting on the need for more support for women, National Childbirth Trust’s research and evaluation manager Agnes Hann said although funding for specialist perinatal mental health services has increased in recent years, it “still isn’t enough” to ensure a consistent level of support across the UK. “It is crucial that women in all parts of the UK can access specialist treatment that meets nationally agreed standards,” she told HuffPost UK. “The six week postnatal check-up with the GP is a key opportunity, and an important ‘safety net’, to identify and support women with mental health difficulties during the postnatal period. In addition to extra funding, we’re also calling for better guidance and maternal mental health training for doctors.” 

Giving advice to new mothers, a spokesperson for PANDAS, a charity giving support to people coping with pre- and postnatal mental illnesses, said: “We would encourage parents at the earliest opportunity to speak with their midwives and/or GP and health visitors to take on any support which is offered.” The charity offers support at an early stage through phone lines and emails but urge women who feel at crisis point to not hesitate in contacting the Samaritans or dialling 111 in an emergency.  

For information and support:

Mind: A mental health charity there to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone. Call: 0300 123 3393. 

Pandas Foundation: Charity to support and advise any parent who is experiencing a perinatal mental illness.  Call: 0843 28 98 401.

Mothers for Mothers: A postnatal depression support group with information and peer advice. Call: 0117 975 6006.

PNI: A website run by women who have suffered from postnatal illnesses to share personal experiences and offer support. 

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