The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Margaret Rose Oates OBE, MB, ChB, FRCPsych, FRCOG; a visionary perinatal psychiatrist, pioneer and leader who changed the lives of countless women and their families.
Friend and colleague, Dr Roch Cantwell, kindly agreed to share a few words on the unique life and legacy of Dr Oates:
Margaret Oates was drawn to psychiatry at an early stage. Having trained in Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, the West Indies and Manchester, she made Nottingham her home, where she raised her children, and which was the base for her clinical, service development and academic achievements.
In 1974 Margaret opened the Nottingham Mother and Baby Unit, followed by a specialist community team in 1978. Her vision was revolutionary – to provide the first integrated perinatal mental health inpatient, community and maternity liaison service in the world. It remains the template for service development across the UK and beyond.
Her achievements and influence were profound. In the UK she developed the first integrated service and the first perinatal mental health managed clinical network. She led the establishment of the RCPsych Perinatal Special Interest Group, guiding its progression to Section (now Faculty) status. She founded the RCPsych Perinatal Quality Network, the default accreditation network for services across the UK.
Margaret’s contribution to the Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths was one of her proudest achievements and led to radical improvements in the care of women in maternity, primary care and mental health settings. She was a founding member of the Marcé Society, now a worldwide family of researchers and clinicians dedicated to the understanding and treatment of perinatal mental illness. Her advice on service development was sought across the globe.
Her skills as an educator and communicator were legendary. A generation of health and social care staff benefitted from her teaching excellence. In clinical settings, her compassion shone through, complemented by an academic rigor and clarity she brought to diagnosis and management.
She was immensely proud of her four children and delighted in each and every grandchild. Her many achievements were recognised in the awarding of an OBE in 2009, an RCOG Honorary Fellowship, and an RCPsych Lifetime Achievement Award. However, her greatest legacy is that the lives of women with maternal mental illness, and that of their babies and families, would be much the poorer and, in many cases, mired in tragedy, were it not for her ceaseless work on their behalf.
WATCH: A tribute to the work of Dr Margaret Oates upon winning an RCPsych Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013
“Margaret Oates will be dearly missed by everyone in perinatal mental health. She made immense contributions to pioneering everything that the MMHA has been campaigning for, from identification of risks, specialist services, networks and quality standards to strategies and policies.”
– Dr Alain Gregoire, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Honorary President of the MMHA
“I was so sad to hear the news of Margaret Oates’ passing and find it hard to imagine the world of perinatal mental health without her. The MMHA and those of us that needed specialist perinatal mental health care owe so much to what Margaret achieved and pioneered in her tireless pursuit of equity for women and families experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and after birth. We could campaign successfully because we knew what we were demanding – written succinctly in the NICE guidelines that Margaret had been instrumental in developing and getting approved. In those early days and once established, Margaret was an honest and treasured critical friend of the MMHA who helped to shape and challenge who we became. As we know, any success of the MMHA rests on the shoulders of giants with Margaret being one of the very dearest – and formidable – any of us could ever have wished for our cause.”
– Emily Slater, former CEO of the MMHA