This site is intended for health professionals only

Six-week postnatal checks for new mothers should be funded, claims RCGP

The RCGP has called for a six-week check for new mothers to come into funding allocations, to ensure GPs have time to check both the baby and mother’s health. 

It follows research by the National Childbirth Trust which found that 47% of women who have recently given birth get less than three minutes, or no time at all, to discuss their own health at postnatal checks. 

It also disclosed that in nearly a third of cases, the vast majority of appointments were spent discussing the baby, leaving less than three minutes centred on the mother’s health, while 16% of new mothers had their entire timeslot focused on their child. A further quarter were not asked about their emotional or mental health during this period. 

However, further research revealed that 82% of mothers who received treatment for their emotional or mental health said it helped.

It comes almost a year after the Government said postnatal checks would be considered as part of the GP contract.

Chair of the RCGP Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard acknowledged that while having a baby is ‘usually a very special time’, new mothers must feel comfortable enough to voice any concerns with physical and mental health with their GP to gain the correct support. 

She also said: ‘The routine six-week postnatal check, usually offered to all new mothers in addition to the formal health check of their newborn baby, should be a time for the GP to be able to talk to women about issues affecting their mental and physical health and wellbeing and take steps to address them.

‘But, even though six-week checks are generally longer than the standard 10-minute appointment, it is still incredibly hard for GPs to explore all the different factors potentially affecting a new mother’s health within the time constraints – particularly at a time when general practice is facing intense resource and workforce pressures.

‘Checks for new mothers need to be funded and promoted in the same way that checks for newborns are so that GPs can spend the time they feel they need to with both the baby and its mother. We hope today’s calls from the National Childbirth Trust for the Government to fund checks for all new mothers are given serious consideration so that we can continue to give all of our patients, including new mothers, the care they need and deserve.’

Kent GP Dr Stephanie de Giorgio added: ‘As a GP who’s looked after postnatal women for years, I know many of them can find it difficult to talk to us for all sorts of reasons. Dedicated time for them is vital so we can find out who is struggling and let them know how to seek help if they start to find things too difficult.

‘The only way that health professionals are going to be able to do this is if the government and NHS England agree to fund an appointment solely for new mothers.’

Last year, NHS England also pledged that full coverage for perinatal mental health services would be implemented by this spring.