Update from Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes, Everyone’s Business Campaign Wales Coordinator
Perinatal mental health
In Wales, community perinatal mental health (PMH) services have continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis, providing support to mums, dads/partners and the families who need it.
Fortunately, PMH teams were unaffected by redeployment to other frontline areas and were able to work quickly and innovatively to ensure appointments moved online or over the phone, where possible. More intensive face-to-face support has been determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on need. Support and consultation for other healthcare colleagues have also been prioritised.
Maternity services were identified as an essential service with ring-fenced staffing to ensure services continue to follow the regularly updated RCOG / RCM guidance and remain accessible to women and families. Contacts with women may be face-to-face or virtual dependent on history of infection.
Families have continued to receive support from health visiting, but universal contacts have been reduced during this period, and are being offered virtually or by telephone. Where additional needs are identified, families will continue to receive the support they need from the health visiting team – this may be a home visit or clinic, depending upon risk.
Impact on women, families and services
In May, MMHA member NSPCC hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on maternal mental health support in Wales. They brought together representatives from across the pathway, including health visitors, midwives, specialist PMH professionals and peer support charities.
Anecdotal evidence shared during the session indicated that new, digital ways of working have offered greater flexibility and streamlined how mental health support is offered to expectant and new mothers.
Collaboration between health services was also reported to have significantly improved due to virtual lines of communication.
However, the initial reduction in referrals to specialist PMH teams and mother and baby units across the border in England was a cause for shared concern, as well as the potential impact of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of dads and partners, and health care professionals.
Welsh Government’s response
The Welsh Government launched the ‘Attend Anywhere’ video consultation system, which will be rolled out across primary and secondary care in Wales, in order to support a more digitised healthcare system during the pandemic.
Making perinatal mental health a priority during and after COVID-19
Upon MMHA’s request, Lynne Neagle MS tabled a written question to the Minister for Health and Social Services:
What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the mental health needs of pregnant women and new mothers and their families during the coronavirus crisis?
The Minister, Vaughan Gething recognised that pregnancy and birth can be an anxious time, especially now, citing this as the reason why maternity and maternal mental health services were ringfenced during the crisis. He also said, “perinatal mental health services will continue to be a priority as we enter the recovery phase”.
The MMHA are encouraged by the Health Minister’s positive response, but are in the process of seeking further details about how PMH will be prioritised as we emerge from the crisis.
Protecting the workforce
Welsh Government has invested to protect the mental health of NHS workers in Wales, including a free mental health support scheme to help staff who are tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Health for Health Professionals Wales is providing the free confidential helpline so NHS Wales staff can access face-to-face counselling sessions, guided self-help tools and online resources.
Help us make maternal mental health Everyone’s Business in Wales
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