Specialist perinatal mental health services are still non-existent in a quarter of UK regions, according to new analysis by a campaign group.
While some progress has been made in the past two years, the lack of services for women and their families in 24% of areas is “unacceptable,” according to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, which represents more than 80 groups.
“For women and families to be able to access specialist services, we need to see funding across all four nations”
Dr Alain Gregoire
In England, 51% of clinical commissioning group areas – equivalent to 106 – have no specialist services, according to the analysis of data from 2017, which the alliance has turned into a series of maps.
Similarly, in Scotland, half of its 14 health boards have no service provision. In contrast, in Wales, just one area – Powys – lacked any form of specialist service out of the country’s seven health boards.
However, Northern Ireland fared the worst, with all regions – apart from Belfast – failing to have any specialist perinatal mental health services available.
Since 2015, when the alliance last investigated the prevalence of services, NHS England has announced a five-year programme of £365m investment for specialist community perinatal mental healthcare.
The alliance also noted that the Welsh government had given money to local health boards to improve services. However, it highlighted that Scotland and Northern Ireland had not prioritised funding for specialist community services.
More than one in 10 women developed a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby, with some of those developing severe problems, said the alliance.
Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “Over 10 years ago national guidelines said that specialist perinatal mental health services should be available for all women who need them. This still hasn’t happened.”
“If women do not get the services they need, the consequences can be fatal”
“We want to celebrate the new perinatal services that have been set up, but these maps show that there is still an urgent need for change on the ground,” he said.
“For women and families to be able to access specialist services, we need to see funding across all four nations of the UK. The job is not yet done. Women and families across the UK need this map to turn green,” he added.
Commenting on the statistics, the Royal College of Midwives said there was “much, much more to be done” to ensure specialist mental health care for pregnant women and new mothers did not remain a “postcode lottery”.
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“If half of England is getting the services needed this means half is not and this needs to change,” said Gill Walton, RCM chief executive and general secretary.
“This is so important because if women do not get the services they need, the consequences can be fatal. Every trust with maternity services should have a specialist midwife in post to enable women who are unwell to get the very best care and support they need,” she added.
“We need to see our governments and our NHS providing the very best perinatal mental health services for all women across the UK, irrespective of where they live,” she said.