I shall certainly write to the Secretary of State on behalf of my constituent’s and pass them the Secretary of State’s response when I receive it. I will also argue for more comprehensive help for new mothers at GP surgeries whenever the opportunity arises to do so.
I believe 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. I believe 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.
On 28 November 2017, the Health Secretary made a Statement on the Government’s new strategy to improve safety in NHS maternity services. As part of the maternity strategy, the Department of Health claims: “NHS England and its partners are working on an ambitious programme to increase capacity and capability in specialist perinatal mental health services across England. This will mean that, by 2020/21, 30,000 more women will be able to access appropriate, high-quality specialist mental health care, closer to home, both in the community and in inpatient Mother and Baby Units. This transformation is backed by £365 million investment between 2015/16 and 2020/21.”
Responding to the Statement, the Shadow Health Secretary pointed out that half of maternity units closed their doors to mothers at some point in 2016, with staffing and capacity issues being the most common reasons for doing so. The Royal College of Midwives has also revealed that our health service is about 3,500 midwives short of the number needed . The Shadow Health Secretary added: ‘The NHS has excellent psychological and bereavement support services. But we all know that the quality of those services remains variable across the country. Indeed, we are still a long way from full parity of esteem for mental health in neonatal care.’
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged an additional £30 billion for the NHS, to ring-fence mental health budgets to ensure funding reaches the frontline, and to give mental health the same priority as physical health.
I believe Ministers must now act to address staffing shortages and ensure that maternity services in Ipswich and across the country receive the funding and focus they deserve.