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19th July 2019

New mums in Wales face shortfall in vital mental health services

BY: Nathan Spackman

Thousands of women in Wales who need specialist support for mental health problems during pregnancy or following birth are unable to access the care they need because of where they live. And others needing specialist inpatient care must receive it in England because Wales does not have a mother and baby inpatient unit for women suffering the most severe mental health conditions.

Perinatal mental health problems are one of the most common complications experienced during pregnancy and after birth with up to one in five women – and up to one in 10 dads affected. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and postpartum psychosis.

It means that in Wales more than 6,000 new mothers every year will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the 12 months following the birth of their child. If left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating impact on women and their families, making it harder for parents to provide the care babies need for healthy social, intellectual and emotional development.

As the NSPCC launches its new campaign, Fight for a Fair Start, which calls for improved perinatal mental health provision, the charity has highlighted that Wales’s seven health boards have just one specialist health visitor and four specialist perinatal mental health midwives between them.

These roles can offer vital early help and continuity of care to mums and their families affected by perinatal mental health problems and help reduce demands on other services which have to support parents suffering problems.

The charity has also highlighted that new mothers experiencing the most severe perinatal mental health conditions are not able to access appropriate inpatient care in Wales because there is no mother and baby unit. Instead, women who need specialist inpatient care are either admitted for treatment in adult psychiatric wards – where they may be separated from their child – or in mother and baby units in England.

Launching Fight for a Fair Start today (19 July) NSPCC Cymru has called for:

  • Dedicated specialist perinatal mental health midwives and health visitors in each health board area, to help identify and support women and their families affected by perinatal mental health problems.
  • All women and their families to be able to access a mother and baby unit in Wales.
  • Greater investment in specialist services to ensure that all women and their families can access high quality specialist perinatal mental health services, wherever they live in Wales

 

Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes, Senior Policy Researcher at NSPCC Wales, said:

“New mums and dads in Wales are still not receiving the mental health support that they need to give their babies the best start in life. Experiencing perinatal mental health problems can make it harder for parents to provide the sensitive and responsive care that babies need at such an important time, and that is why it is so crucial to have the right support in place for families.

“Access to this vital support should not be dependent upon where you live. Having at least one specialist mental health midwife and specialist perinatal mental health visitor in each health board in Wales would be a significant step towards ensuring that these problems are identified early and mums and their families receive the best care.

“Greater investment is also needed. The Welsh Government must make sure that all women and their families affected by the most serious problems can access potentially lifesaving treatment and support from a mother and baby unit in Wales when they need it.”

North Wales mum Sally Wilson developed postpartum psychosis in 2015 just days after the birth of her daughter Ella but was unable to access the locally-based help she needed such as a mother and baby unit.

She said: “I experienced delusions, hallucinations and I was terrified I had harmed Ella but I was admitted to a general adult psychiatric unit, which was scary and traumatic, while Ella went home with my partner.

“In North Wales there weren’t any specialist perinatal mental health teams and no specialist mother and baby unit with the nearest two hours away in England. It took me a long time to access the correct treatment and not only did this have an impact on my recovery but it also affected early bonding with Ella.

“In the absence of specialist help, I was fortunate that my partner’s research background meant he was able to investigate evidence-based treatment options, I appreciate that is not the case for everyone. I also relied heavily on the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis to help me recover. Ultimately, this saved my life.”

Dr Jess Heron, CEO of Action on Postpartum Psychosis added that they supported the NSPCC Campaign.

She said: “Most women who develop Postpartum Psychosis will need admission to a specialist Mother and Baby Unit. It is not right that women who become ill in Wales have to be admitted far away from their families in England, or risk being separated from their infant.

“Psychiatric illness is the leading cause of maternal death in the postpartum year in the UK. We fully endorse the call made by NSPCC for women to have immediate access to a mother and baby unit within a reasonable distance of their home if they need it, and to have access to specialist care within perinatal mental health teams wherever they live.”

The NSPCC campaign has been supported by Jo Malone London who also fund direct services to new and prospective parents, focussing on supporting parents with their mental health problems to help them develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.

The NSPCC is inviting people to join the campaign by raising their voice and signing the Fight for a Fair Start petition.

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