16,000 women were unable to access essential perinatal mental health care due to the pandemic, according to research

Posted By: Amy Tubb

1st July 2021

  • Covid
  • Member
  • Research

3 minute read

  • Postcode lottery in England puts the mental health of expectant and new mums at risk.
  • Maternal Mental Health Alliance member, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for funding for perinatal mental health facilities in the next spending review and for local health bodies to invest in services in their areas.

Thousands of women could not get vital help with their mental health during pregnancy or right after giving birth because of the covid pandemic, according to new analysis using the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Mental Health Watch.

What does this new data tell us?

In 2020/21 47,000 were expected to access perinatal mental health services, but in the most recent data for the 2020 calendar year only 31,261 managed to get help with mental health problems in pregnancy and early motherhood.

Lack of support for mental health problems during and after pregnancy can have serious consequences for women and their families.

The pandemic was not the sole reason the mental health of thousands of women was overlooked. Variation in care across the country due to lack of local investment in perinatal mental health services means that in many areas in England many pregnant women and new mums can’t get the mental health support they need.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who works in perinatal mental health, said: “Many women can develop mental health problems for the first time during pregnancy and after birth, or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.

“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times but services have been under unprecedented strain. Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for funding for perinatal mental health facilities in the next spending review. This new investment will mean more women needing support can be treated, and that the mental health estate is fit for purpose, with suitable and welcoming spaces that can contribute to patients’ recovery.

Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Equitable access to essential perinatal mental health care is needed now more than ever.

Psychiatrists are also calling on local health bosses in certain areas to address longstanding funding issues and put an end to the postcode lottery in maternal mental health.

Perinatal mental health support was broadly on track before the pandemic. In 2019/20, 30,625 women accessed perinatal mental health services, against the expectation of 32,000 outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Disruptions to care combined with the stresses of the pandemic exacerbated poor mental health in expectant and new mothers and made it harder to get diagnosis and treatment.

In all local areas in England, at least 7.1% of pregnant women and new mums are expected to need support from mental health services.

Karen Middleton, Campaign Manager at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “This is worrying new data from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. There is real symmetry with recent research commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, which found that Covid-19 increased the mental health risks for new and expectant mums. We also know that the pandemic further stretched services and healthcare staff working hard to deliver safe perinatal mental health care. Now more than ever, essential services supporting women and families with their perinatal mental health need to be protected and enhanced.”

More information

Data produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mental Health Watch uses public NHS data to track how well the mental health system in England is performing.

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