The postcode lottery experienced by new and expectant mothers seeking help for poor mental health is now over, NHS England has announced.
Five years ago, two in five parts of the country had no access to specialist perinatal community services.
“Hopefully this will cause a tipping point for other nations too”
But now for the first time help has been established in every one of the 44 local NHS areas in England.
In addition, the opening of four new mother and baby units means more women can access residential care for the most severe mental health problems without being separated from their child. There are plans to develop capacity further to more than 160 beds across the country.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director at NHS England, said it was investing in better perinatal services because mental ill health in motherhood could be “devastating”.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, chair of the perinatal faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, described the expansion as “fantastic” but highlighted the need to increase the workforce to support it.
She noted that previous lack of specialist services meant some mothers and babies had to be separated at a key time in their child’s development.
“Providing everyone with access to the right care in the right place has always been our hope, and it’s now finally being realised in England,” Dr Seneviratne said. “Hopefully this will cause a tipping point for other nations too.
“We now need to focus on building the perinatal mental health workforce whose job it will be to deliver these vital services,” she added.
The NHS Long Term Plan has promised to further ramp up perinatal mental health care across England.
Among the initiatives is to make specialist community-based care available from pre-conception to two years after birth rather than one.
The NHS will also automatically offer an assessment to the partner of any new mum battling mental ill health and signpost them to professional support if needed.
The goal is to be providing an additional 54,000 mentally unwell women each year with the right care, at the right time and as close to home as possible by 2023/24.