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RCOG response to NHS England commitment to improve maternal mental health care

News 28 November 2016

NHS England has announced 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. 

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:

“We welcome NHS England’s commitment to improving mental health care for pregnant women and new mothers.

“Around one in five women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after delivering their baby and one quarter of all maternal deaths between six weeks and a year after childbirth are related to mental health problems. Despite these alarming figures, in almost half of the UK pregnant women and new mothers have no access to specialist maternal mental health services and only 3% of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have a maternal mental health service strategy.

“This initiative will not only provide invaluable support to women in the community, but also ensure that women can be referred to specialist services in a timely manner. Buddying and telephone support initiatives will also ensure that women feel able to share their own experiences and prevent feelings of isolation. 

“Healthcare professionals are often the first point of contact that a woman suffering with mental health problems reaches out to and we must ensure that all staff involved in the care of women during pregnancy and the first year after birth have relevant education and training in perinatal mental health – this includes both communication and listening skills. Our role should increasingly be about empowering women to make decisions about their care and in supporting women to help themselves.

“Giving parity of esteem to mental and physical health is crucial and we have some way to go in addressing the stigma associated with mental health. Many women often fear being seen as a ‘bad mother’ and having their child taken away from them. Women are frequently made to feel guilty that they are to blame and that they have failed to be the ‘perfect mother.’ No one is to blame for developing a mental health illness and as a society we need to be reinforcing this message constantly.

“There is a wealth of data, evidence and guidance on good practice and it is encouraging news that both Government and NHS England are now focussing on putting in place practical steps to address the problem we face in the UK.”

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