16,389 women were unable to access essential perinatal mental health care last year

Posted By: Amy Tubb

27th April 2022

  • Covid
  • Services
  • Member
  • Research

3 minute read

  • Just 40,411 new and expectant mothers received specialist support, over 16,000 short of the NHS target to treat 57,000 women
  • A record 93,494 women were referred to perinatal mental health services in England alone last year
  • Maternal Mental Health Alliance member, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for a fully funded mental health recovery plan to make it easier for women to access care.

According to analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, thousands of new and expectant mothers with serious mental problems are missing out on vital specialist support.

The data

Between January and December 2021, just 40,411 pregnant women and new mums had contact with perinatal mental health (PMH) services compared to the NHS target of at least 57,000; a shortfall of over 16,000 women.

PMH services have expanded in recent years. However, this new research found the NHS is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for specialist PMH support post-pandemic – services in England received a record 93,494 referrals last year alone.

NHS Digital data from last year shows:

  • most women (86,604) referred to specialist PMH teams were referred within 12 months following pregnancy
  • referral rates were highest for younger women
  • teenagers aged 16 to 19 years were 3.25 times more likely to be referred to PMH services than those over the age of 30.
  • women aged 20 to 24 years were twice as likely to be referred for treatment than those over 30.

Dr Jo Black, Chair of the Perinatal Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Psychiatrists working on the frontline are seeing the devastating impact of new mothers with serious mental health problems waiting far too long for specialist mental health treatment. Many others are not being seen by specialist teams at all, putting women, their newborn babies and other family members at risk of long-term mental health problems later on. We need to accelerate the expansion of perinatal mental health services to ensure every new mother who requires support for serious mental health problems can get timely help and support.”

Women across the country need better access to specialist PMH support

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for a COVID-19 recovery plan for mental health, with additional funding to support services facing unprecedented demand and action on workforce shortages. The College is calling on the Government to fund more psychiatrists and more community facilities to make it easier for women across the country to access specialist support close to where they live.

Karen Middleton, Campaign Manager at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said:

“The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ findings raise real concerns about how much specialist perinatal mental health services are meeting the needs of women and families. In recent years, there has been welcome progress with the delivery of specialist perinatal mental health services in many areas of the UK, which are helping women with severe and complex maternal mental health problems and their babies get the right care at the right time. However, the last two years have placed extraordinary pressures on new and expectant mums and increased maternal mental health risks, so it is vital that the true level of demand for these essential services is reassessed in light of the pandemic’s impact. Perinatal services need to be sufficiently funded and resourced, to address the gaps that exist and ensure all women, babies and families can access the support that they urgently need.”

More information

The treatment and referral data are available online from NHS Digital:

Further reading:

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