I agree that all expectant mothers should be confident that the NHS is able to give the best possible care to them and their babies at what is one of the most important times in their life.
Guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists emphasises the importance of early intervention, detection and diagnosis of perinatal mental health problems and recommends that services should identify women at high-risk at an early stage. The guidance also states that all women should be asked about current mental health problems during pregnancy and in the early postnatal period.
The National Maternity Review contains important recommendations which, if implemented in full, will help ensure services are safer, more personalised, and more focused on mental health. The review is right to highlight “the historic underfunding and provision” in perinatal mental health care. This view is echoed by the Mental Health Taskforce which found that fewer than 15% of localities provide effective specialist community perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions, and more than 40% provide no service at all.
The Government’s new strategy to improve safety in NHS maternity services includes a commitment to increase capacity and capability in specialist perinatal mental health services. I welcome this ambition. However, it is essential that NHS units providing these services are properly resourced and properly staffed. Since 2010 the number of specialist mother and baby units has been reduced and half of maternity units closed their doors to mothers at some point in 2016.
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged more than £39 billion for the NHS and social care, to ring-fence mental health budgets to ensure funding reaches the frontline, and to give mental health the same priority as physical health.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Health to pass on your concerns and to ask what action the Government are taking to make sure that all new mothers’ mental health problems are identified as early as possible and as soon as I have received a response I will provide an update.