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iHV welcomes steps set out by NHS England to improve mental health care for pregnant women and new mums

26th November 2016

NHS England today sets out plans to provide more support for pregnant women and new mums suffering mental illness as well as to improve care for the many people with mental health problems attending A&E in crisis.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England will tell the Mind conference on Tuesday that £40m is to be allocated to 20 areas of the country to fund new specialist community mental health services for mums in the immediate run up to and after birth, and help reach 30,000 more women a year by 2021. A further £20m will be allocated next year.

Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director, iHV, said:

“Funding for mental health in emergency care has long been neglected, with devastating effects for mothers, their infants and families. The iHV welcomes the steps set out by NHS England to improve mental health care for pregnant women and new mums. It’s significant progress to shine a light on mothers affected by perinatal mental illness, but this is only one action and needs to part of a much broader approach to support new mothers.

In particular, the iHV would welcome plans which include prevention, health promotion and early intervention, alongside specialist service funding – for example, working to address the root causes of mental illness; identifying mental health problems early, particularly in the antenatal period; and offering evidence-based interventions at the earliest opportunity.”

The funding for new mums will see new or bigger teams in those areas providing specialist care for all new and expectant mums with severe mental ill health like severe post-natal depression.

It will fund new perinatal consultants, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and nursery nurses as well as community peer support for mums, babies and families. There will also be more buddying and telephone support where mums who have had experience of similar issues help other mums in need.

Dr Adams added:

“Health visitors are ideally placed to work with families to prevent a mental health problem, or a potential mental health problem, becoming a mental health crisis. Additionally, with their understanding of the importance of the couple relationship, the parent-infant relationship and infant mental health, they have the incredible opportunity to not only support maternal mental health, but that of the family and our future generation of parents.

Unfortunately, the iHV is hearing daily reports of cuts to the health visiting workforce planned by local authorities up and down the country.  Such cuts will result in more mothers ending up in crisis, being diagnosed late with mental illness and needing to use secondary services, something which is, in so many cases, preventable.

Mental illness does not affect only the poor and disadvantaged – every mother is vulnerable. The Institute is urging the government to protect and promote a universal health visiting service – a service that can make such a difference to the current, and lifelong, mental health of mothers, fathers and their babies.”