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Thousands unable to access perinatal mental health services, psychiatrists warn


perinatal mental health services


Thousand of new mothers and pregnant women are missing out on specialist perinatal mental health support because of a lack of capacity, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.

Figures show last year show that 40,411 new and expectant mothers received care from specialist services, well under an NHS target of 57,000 being able to access perinatal mental health teams, the College said.

Yet a record 93,494 women were referred. The gap in care has led to the College calling for a fully funded mental health plan to make it easier for pregnant women and those who have given birth to access care when they need it.

Current pressures have meant more than 16,000 missing out on specialist support for conditions such as severe anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis.

While perinatal services have expanded considerably in recent years, with more women being treated than ever before, the analysis suggests the NHS is struggling to keep up with growing demand, the College said.

It has been estimated that one in five women experience anxiety, depression and other common mental health conditions during and following pregnancy with one in 14 women developing more serious conditions requiring specialist care.

Data from NHS Digital for January to December 2021, shows most women (86,604) referred to specialist mental health teams were referred within 12 months of pregnancy, with younger women more likely to be referred.

Those aged 16 to 19 years more than three times more likely to be referred to perinatal mental health services than those over the age of 30, and women aged 20 to 24 years were twice as likely to referred. 

Funding is needed for more psychiatrists and more community facilities to make it easier for women across the country to access specialist support, said Dr Jo Black, chair of the perinatal faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

‘Psychiatrists working on the frontline are seeing the devastating impact of new mothers with serious mental health problems waiting far too long for specialist mental health treatment.

‘Many others are not being seen by specialist teams at all, putting women, their newborn babies and other family members at risk of long-term mental health problems later on.

‘We need to accelerate the expansion of perinatal mental health services to ensure every new mother who requires support for serious mental health problems can get timely help and support.’ 

In 2019, research by the National Childbirth Trust found a quarter of women were not asked about their emotional or mental health during their postpartum 6-8-week check. However, the RCGP said GP practices needed to receive funding towards the checks.

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Patrufini Duffy 26 April, 2022 7:59 pm

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