The health service is spending £23 million rolling out community pre- and postnatal support to underserved parts of the country, to achieve full geographical coverage. As recently as 2014, the health service estimated that only 3% of the country had good access to perinatal mental health care.
Annie Belasco, from the PANDAS Foundation told HuffPost UK this is a “long-awaited but fantastic breakthrough”. “This money will support not only the wellbeing of parents’ mental health, but also the quality of life for families as one,” she said. “It will ensure no one is missed out geographically.”
Abigail Wood, head of campaigns at the NCT also welcomed the news and said: “hopefully this will mean the end of the postcode lottery pregnant women and new mums have had to put up with for so long”. However, she added: “While it’s all well and good to improve specialist services, we need more focus on the recognition of mental health issues in the first place.
“More money going into early identification would mean fewer mothers suffering with mental health problems and needing specialist care further down the line. Recent NCT research found nearly half (42%) of new mothers’ mental health problems did not get picked up by a doctor or other health professional.”
NHS statistics show 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.
This funding forms part of a package of measures 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. ”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 specialist community perinatal mental health teams will offer assessments and care for women with complex or severe mental health problems during the perinatal period. They will also provide pre-conception advice for women with a current or past severe mental illness who are planning a pregnancy.
The new developments look set to eliminate a long-standing and serious postcode lottery." Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance
NHS England is also working on 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.
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.
Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said in the 30 years working for the NHS, he has 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,” he said. “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.”