A photo of a man weaing a smart shirt holding a pen and signing a document

Political parties in Northern Ireland agree landmark maternal mental health Consensus Statement

We in Northern Ireland urgently request the commitment of investment and ring-fencing of funds required to ensure women, babies, families and communities get the care and support they need and deserve.” 
– Consensus Statement on the improvement of Perinatal Mental Health services in Northern Ireland

Despite the stalemate in Stormont, all political parties in Northern Ireland have co-signed a ground-breaking Consensus Statement, drafted as part of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance Everyone’s Business campaign, committing to close the gap in specialist mental health provision for women during pregnancy and the first year after giving birth.

England, Scotland and Wales have faced similar challenges with their specialist perinatal mental health services, but in recent years each have seen significant improvements due to specific and targeted investment. While stakeholders in Northern Ireland have shown support in principal, until now a formal commitment had not been made.

Key facts:

  • Women and families in 80% of Northern Ireland cannot access specialist perinatal mental health community services and there is no Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland.
  • All political parties in Northern Ireland have now officially signed a historic statement agreeing to work together to change this.
  • The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) is calling on the parties to unlock urgently needed funding for women and families requiring an inpatient Mother and Baby Unit and specialist community services in every Health Trust.
  • Untreated perinatal mental illnesses can have a wide range of effects on the mental and physical health of women, their children, partners and significant others.
  • In severe cases, perinatal mental illness can be life-threatening: suicide is a leading cause of death for women in the UK during the perinatal period.
  • The economic cost to society of not effectively treating perinatal mental illness far outweighs the cost of providing appropriate services.
  • If perinatal mental health problems were identified and treated quickly and effectively, these serious and often life-changing human and economic costs could be avoided.

Lindsey, a mother from County Down, comments,

“As a mum who experienced perinatal anxiety and stress, I was lucky that I was able to ask for help… there are so many who don’t have the confidence to speak out, or adequate support when they do. These women need help.”

The MMHA – a UK-wide coalition of over 90 organisations – together with 18 Northern Ireland-based organisations, including NSPCC NI and AWARE, welcomes the parties’ commitment to deliver life-saving perinatal mental health services in Northern Ireland:

Lindsay Robinson, Everyone’s Business Campaign Co-ordinator at the MMHA, comments,

“We thank each of the parties for the time they have given to understanding the issues and needs of women and families, and for supporting the MMHA Everyone’s Business campaign. But this is just the beginning. We must continue to work together to ensure that the necessary funding is made available, as soon as possible, and attaining it remains the highest priority.

“Specialist community perinatal mental health services are vital for the health of our mums and families in Northern Ireland. Timely access to services can and does make all the difference. These must be made available – lives depend on them.”

Caroline Cunningham, Senior Policy Researcher at NSPCC NI, says,

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has not yet committed to investment of funds on this issue. Recent research led by NSPCC Northern Ireland added weight to the available evidence, demonstrating significant gaps in the provision of much-needed services to women and their families affected by perinatal mental illnesses in Northern Ireland.

“We therefore welcome the support that all political parties in Northern Ireland have now shown through signing up to this important Consensus Statement requesting a commitment to funding on this issue, led by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.”

Tom McEneaney, Head of Business Development at AWARE, comments,

“AWARE fully supports the Consensus Statement, and the open letter from the Royal Colleges. As a leading mental health charity in Northern Ireland within the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, we have been promoting and supporting the Everyone’s Business Campaign in lobbying for the RQIA recommendations to be fully funded and implemented across Northern Ireland. We believe now is the time for the Government and Department of Health to act in securing and ring-fencing funding to help deliver the high-quality specialist services that will make a real difference to family lives.”

In solidarity with the MMHA, the Royal Colleges have published an open letter addressed to the Department of Health encouraging them to take appropriate steps to identify and release the resources needed to establish specialist community perinatal mental health services in each of the five trusts, along with the provision of a regional mother and baby unit as a matter of urgency.

Dr Julie Anderson, Chair of Royal College of Psychiatry NI Perinatal Faculty, says,

“We’re calling for both urgent and significant investment to be made to establish specialist maternal mental health care across Northern Ireland.

“A number of recent studies have identified increasing levels of self-reported mental disorders associated with pregnancy across the region. There is also clear evidence that poor mental health during this period can have a long-term and detrimental impact on the mental wellbeing of not only women, but also their partners and children.

“Significant ring-fenced funding in mainland United Kingdom has led to the extensive development of specialist services; Northern Ireland cannot be allowed to be left behind. The college feels strongly that steps must now be taken to address this unfairness of service and that significant funding should be released to address this worsening situation.”

Coverage

Nursing Times – Funding needed to make Northern Irish perinatal pledge a reality

Notes to editors

About the Consensus Statement

The Consensus Statement on the improvement of Perinatal Mental Health services in Northern Ireland was signed by:

  • DUP – Arlene Foster MLA, Party Leader DUP
  • Sinn Fein – Michelle O’Neill MLA, Vice President Sinn Fein
  • SDLP – Nichola Mallon MLA, Deputy Party Leader SDLP
  • UUP – Robin Swann MLA, Party Leader UUP & Robbie Butler MLA, UUP Mental Health Spokesperson
  • Alliance Party of NI – Paula Bradshaw MLA, Health Spokesperson
  • TUV – Jim Allister MLA, Party Leader TUV
  • Green Party in NI – Clare Bailey, MLA, Party Leader Green Party
  • People Before Profit – Gerry Carroll MLA

About The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA)

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), is a coalition of over 90 organisations with a shared vision to see all women across the UK get consistent, accessible and quality care and support for their mental health during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth.

The Everyone’s Business Campaign

The MMHA’s Everyone’s Business Campaign calls for all women throughout the UK who experience perinatal mental health problems to receive the care they and their families need, wherever and whenever they need it.

What are ‘specialist perinatal mental health services’?

This term refers to specialist perinatal mental health community teams and inpatient mother and baby units where mum and baby are cared for together when hospitalisation is required.

Contact

Amy Tubb, Communications Officer, Maternal Mental Health Alliance
amyt@maternalmentalhealthalliance.org
0207 117 2875