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Nearly half of women lack access to perinatal mental healthcare

Mentally ill mothers are missing out on potentially life-saving care because they cannot access NHS services, experts have warned.

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance said that pregnant women and new mothers across almost half of the UK do not have access to specialist perinatal mental health services.

This could leave women or their babies at risk because they are missing out on essential and potentially life-saving care, according to the group of more than 60 professional and patient organisations.

“Almost half of the UK, women still have no access to community specialist perinatal mental health services”

Alain Gregoire

The organisations have released a series of maps showing the availability of services to women across the UK (see PDF, top right). The maps show that large swathes of Britain have no provision at all.

The maps have been created to mark the launch of the alliance’s Everyone’s Business campaign, which is calling for NHS commissioners to fund services to “improve the lives of all women throughout the UK who experience perinatal mental health problems”.

To mark the launch of the campaign, the Department of Health today hosted a meeting of ministers responsible for maternity, and care and support services and senior NHS representatives to examine the current situation and plan further action.

Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “Specialist perinatal mental health services have the expertise to treat illnesses that particularly affect new mothers, and understand how to minimise the impact of mental illness on the woman’s pregnancy or developing baby.

“Yet in almost half of the UK, women still have no access to community specialist perinatal mental health services.

“We would be horrified if there were no maternity hospitals, and general surgeons were doing caesarean sections in large parts of the country. Equitable access to specialist care for women’s mental health at this time is just as important and the NHS has a responsibility to ensure that this is available.”

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “Healthcare systems across the globe have prioritised physical over mental health in maternity for too long.

Dan Poulter

Dan Poulter

“We are making sure that all midwives receive mandatory training in perinatal mental health, so there are specialist staff available in every birthing unit,” he said. “Readjusting this balance and making fast progress really is everyone’s business.”

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