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NHS plan vows to help extra 24,000 women with perinatal mental health difficulties

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The new long-term plan for the NHS in England has promised to help an additional 24,000 women with perinatal mental health difficulties by 2023-24.

The health service has said that is on top of the extra 30,000 women who will receive specialist help by 2020-21.

“This will contribute to helping to care for the 5-10% of fathers who experience mental health difficulties”

NHS Long Term Plan

In the NHS Long Term Plan, published yesterday, NHS England vowed to improve access to and the quality of mental health care for mothers, their partners and children.

According to the third chapter – titled Further progress on care quality and outcomes – the consequences of not accessing high-quality perinatal mental health support are estimated to cost the NHS and social care £1.2bn per year.

It highlighted that, during pregnancy and the 24 months after giving birth, “around one in four” women experience mental health problems.

One way the long-term plan aims to improve access and quality, is by increasing access to evidence-based care for women with moderate to severe perinatal mental health difficulties and a personality disorder diagnosis, it noted.

NHS leaders said this will benefit an additional 24,000 women per year by 2023-24, in addition to the extra 30,000 women getting specialist help by 2020-21.

The plan has also pledged that access to care provided by specialist perinatal mental health services will be available from preconception to 24 months after birth. Care is currently only provided from preconception to 12 months after birth.

It said this was “in line with the cross-government ambition for women and children focusing on the first 1,001 critical days of a child’s life”.

“We would want to see how the plan’s commitments to improve perinatal mental health actually look”

Gill Walton

Another way to achieve its hoped improvements, the plan added that it will expand access to evidence-based psychological therapies within specialist perinatal mental health services.

This means that parent-infant, couple, co-parenting and family interventions can be included, the plan added.

In addition, it has claimed the health service will be increasing access to evidence-based psychological support and therapy, including digital options, in a maternity setting.

Regarding this area, the plan stated that “maternity outreach clinics will integrate maternity, reproductive health and psychological therapy for women experiencing mental health difficulties directly arising from, or related to, the maternity experience”.

For fathers and partners, NHS England have promised to offer them evidence-based assessment for their mental health and will signpost them to receive support as required.

“This will contribute to helping to care for the 5-10% of fathers who experience mental health difficulties during the perinatal period,” claimed the NHS Long Term Plan.

It also outlined a range of other measures intended to boost safety in maternity settings and redesign neonatal services, led by an expansion in nursing staff numbers.

Commenting on the plan, Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “What is now important is seeing the details of how this will be translated for people where they live through local maternity plans.

“For example, we would want to see how the plan’s commitments to improve perinatal mental health actually look when the services are delivered, such as ensuring every trust has a specialist perinatal mental health midwife,” she added.

The chief executive said the plan was “ambitious” and claimed the RCM are looking forward to working with the government to make it become a “reality”.

Dr Andrew Mayers is an expert in perinatal mental health at Bournemouth University and said he was particularly “encouraged by the vision proposed” for this area of health services.

He said: “The news from NHS England about the 10-year plan for the NHS, with increased funding was very welcome.”

“There is potential here for some revolutionary changes,” he added.

Dr Mayers told Nursing Times that he will be “vigilant” towards how the plan is delivered, adding that he has been invited by NHS England to contribute to discussions about the development of the perinatal plan.

He said he was “particularly pleased to see several proposals for partners,” adding how he and several other campaigners have been “pressing for more support for fathers”.

He added: “We need more attention for fathers as they too can experience symptoms such as postnatal depression, and they also need resources to know how to help their partner should she experience poor mental health.”

“Fathers also need support when they witness birth trauma. Currently, there is no support at all, and yet we know that fathers can be at particular risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of witnessing that trauma,” he said.

“The plans outlined by NHS England suggest that the new clinics could provide that support,” said Dr Mayers.

The new 10-year plan for the health service was published at 12pm today, after being delayed since the end of last year – reportedly due to the chaos around Brexit.

The blueprint sets out how the £20.5bn annual budget increase for the health service, which was promised last summer by prime minister Theresa May, will be spent.

Ahead of its full publication, some of the main aims and innovations set to be included in the plan were revealed in bite-size chunks over the festive period and in a more comprehensive statement yesterday by NHS England.

Children’s services, cancer care, mental health and heart disease were all highlighted as being set to benefit, along with funding boosts for community care, digital technology and prevention.

The last time a 10-year strategy document was drawn up covering the whole health service in England was the NHS Plan, which was published in 2000 by the Labour government under Tony Blair.

  • More details on the NHS Long Term Plan can be found on a website created by NHS England along with the document itself.


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