New funding to improve mental health care for pregnant women and new mums

Sussex is one of 20 areas across the country which will benefit from funding to improve care for pregnant women and new mums experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, mental health difficulties.

A total of £40m is being allocated by NHS England to provide new specialist community mental health services for mums in the immediate run up to and after birth, with the aim of supporting 30,000 more women a year by 2021. A further £20m will be allocated next year.

One in five women experience post or ante natal depression, anxiety or in some cases psychosis during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth and costs of perinatal mental ill health are estimated at £8.1 billion each year in the UK, almost £10,000 per birth.

Sussex Partnership currently offers a Specialist Community Perinatal Service in Brighton & Hove and in East Sussex. The new funding will allow the team to expand and to provide specialist support to women, their families and their babies across the whole county – for the first time in West Sussex – and at East Surrey Hospital. 

Dr Jenny Cooke, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist in the Brighton & Hove Perinatal Service, said: “This is fantastic news for women and families in Sussex and East Surrey. Welcoming a new baby is a very special time but for some mothers, particularly where there is a history of mental illness, it can also be overwhelming as they are worried about what affect their pregnancy will have on their mental wellbeing. For the first time every woman in Sussex will have access to a community mental health team offering specialist support so that they don’t have to cope on their own.”

Dr James Thallon, Medical Director for NHS England in the South East said: “This funding will help improve the services that are available to support the health and wellbeing of new and expectant mums in Sussex and East Surrey who are experiencing mental health challenges, including severe postnatal depression.”  

Perinatal community mental health services provide specialist care for women (and their babies) with moderate to serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or severe depression whilst they are pregnant or in the first 12 months after birth. The long term benefits of this kind of specialist care offers early help and support to parents and babies to help with bonding, especially where there has been birth trauma or other birth difficulties.

The team can respond quickly to provide specialist treatment including medication and psychological support if women become ill. They can help minimise the risks to mother and baby by working with other health professionals such as GPs, midwives and health visitors to provide specialist advice and support, ensuring that women, their partners and families and all other professionals working with them understand their illness and medication. 

They also advise on lifestyle factors which promote good mental wellbeing and can prevent relapse during pregnancy and in the postnatal period. 

The perinatal service can also see and treat women who have been iden¬tified as at high risk of developing serious illness by offering pre-conception counselling. This means that women who have had a serious mental illness in the past, but now want to plan a pregnancy, can get expert advice on how their illness would be managed through a pregnancy and in the postnatal period. This could include changes to medication and information about support should they become unwell during their pregnancy.

Full details of the funding being awarded is available from NHS England.