New mums face gaps in vital specialist mental health services

Thousands of new mums in Wales who need treatment for mental health problems during pregnancy or following birth are facing different levels of specialist care based on where they live according to new research from NCMH, NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Mind Cymru and the Mental Health Foundation.

Perinatal mental health problems are one of the most common complications that a woman can experience when having a baby with one in four women affected.

In Wales, around 9,000 new mothers every year will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the 12 months following the birth of their child.

These include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic distress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and postpartum psychosis. If left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating impact on women and their families.

From bumps to babies

The new report, From Bumps to Babies, published today (12 June) by NSPCC Wales and partners, highlights gaps in the provision of vital perinatal mental health services across Wales. It also reveals the barriers which prevent many women and their families from accessing the care they need to recover.

Although the research found that there had been recent progress in the provision of perinatal mental health services in Wales and women were already benefiting from this vital support, further shortfalls were identified.

Among these were inconsistences in specialist support available across Wales, including differences in criteria for treatment referrals, interventions and treatments offered, staffing levels, and the absence of mother and baby unit provision in Wales for women who need specialist inpatient care.

One mother who took part in the research said: “Once I got the right support it was superb, it was getting it that caused the problem. It’s such a postcode lottery. If I lived in Cardiff I would have had the input far sooner.” While another told researchers: “I saw no evidence in Powys of perinatal mental health support.”

Among the report’s key recommendations are:

  • To address the inconsistency in specialist perinatal mental health service provision between health boards in Wales;
  • To improve the early identification of perinatal mental health problems;
  • For specialist mother and baby units for women suffering the most severe conditions to be available in Wales. Currently, women who need inpatient care have to travel to England or receive treatment in general psychiatric wards where they are separated from their baby;
  • To include perinatal mental health in pre-registration training for all mental health practitioners and all health professionals working in the perinatal period;
  • For strong leadership from the Welsh Government to eliminate the shortfalls in care identified.

Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes, Senior Policy Researcher at NSPCC Wales and author of the report said: “Important progress has been made in Wales in the provision of specialist perinatal mental health services and our research shows that women across the country are already benefiting from this vital help.

“But too many women in Wales are still not receiving all aspects of care that they need to help them recover. The area of Wales in which a woman lives still determines the level of care they receive.

“If left untreated, perinatal mental health conditions can have devastating consequences for women and their families. More must be done to address the gaps our report has identified and ensure that all women and their families in Wales get the support they need.”

Simon Jones, Head of Policy and Influencing at Mind Cymru, said: “The research launched today clearly shows we need to keep tackling the stigma around perinatal mental health problems as well as enabling women to access support quickly and effectively. Whilst progress has been made across Wales with investment from Welsh Government, we still need to ensure that the ability to access support is not determined by where you live.

“The continued lack of specialist mother and baby units in Wales is a concern to which a resolution needs to be quickly identified. We know that generally the best place for women will be receiving support at home, but there are times when specialist in-patient care is necessary and at those times it’s simply not appropriate for women to be so far away from their families.

“We believe that this research provides the basis for highlighting what is working really well, along with the areas that need a continued focus in order to provide the best possible care.”

Professor Ian Jones, Director at NCMH said: “We welcome the significant improvements in service provision over the past three years but as we have found there is still a need for further investment, both in service provision and access to training for healthcare professionals.

“Our recommendations support and build on the priority areas raised in the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee inquiry and together they present a clear blue print for the improvements needed to deliver world-class perinatal mental health care for women across Wales.”

Download the report

Banner image: ©NSPCC 2018. Photography by Tom Hull. The adults pictured are models.
Paul Gauci

Paul is the communications manager at NCMH and Senior Communications Officer at Cardiff University's MRC Centre.

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