Better mental health care for new mothers welcomed

Call for new unit in north-east Wales

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM has welcomed a new report calling for better perinatal mental health care, which can affect up to one in five new mothers.

Llyr Gruffydd, the party’s shadow’s spokersperson for children and young people, said the creation of a new inpatient mother and baby mental health unit – something Plaid Cymru forced the Welsh Government to include in its most budget – was a step forward in improving care.

He added that creating an unit in south Wales did not address the problems in the North, a point also made in the report, “The report suggests that an unit needs to be developed in north-east Wales that could serve both sides of the border. This would go a long way to redress the imbalance in specialist care, where patients from north Wales all too often have to travel distances to access services in the north-west of England.

“We have the capability to be leaders in this field – Wales already provides excellent research in mental health care but we need to back that up with the specialist services. Creating centres of expertise in both north and south would address that need and that’s why Plaid Cymru pushed so hard for perinatal mental health care to be prioritised in the budget deal.”

The Children, Young People and Education Committee also warned that the lack of specialist in-patient care within Wales for those with the most severe symptoms is unacceptable.

While the Committee welcomes the creation of specialist perinatal mental health teams to treat mothers in the community, it has recommended that more investment is needed to enable all community perinatal mental health services to be brought up to the standard of the best.

Sally Wilson from Bangor, who has experience of using mental health services in Gwynedd, and who contributed evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said, “It’s very much a postcode lottery of where you are. North and west Wales don’t tend to do very well in terms of the services provided compared maybe to south Wales and Cardiff.”

The majority of women experiencing perinatal mental illness can be cared for safely and effectively in the community, however those with the most severe symptoms require in-patient care in a specialist Mother and Baby Unit. The Committee heard evidence that while at least 50 to 80 women a year in Wales require admission, Wales’s only unit was closed in 2013. Since then, patients have travelled as far as Derby, London and Nottingham, or received treatment in an adult psychiatric unit, separated from their child.

Other recommendations from the Committee’s report include:

  • Prioritising the provision of rapid and timely access to psychological therapies for perinatal women given the established link between perinatal ill health and a child’s health and development. Within the next six months the Welsh Government should also outline how it expects the lack of psychological support for neonatal and bereaved parents to be addressed;
  • Raising awareness of perinatal mental health issues amongst the public and health professionals, to improve understanding of the symptoms and encourage the normalisation of talking about emotional well-being to reduce stigma and fear; and
  • Health Boards and the Welsh Government should work together to ensure that where women are referred to third-sector organisations, these services are properly funded to offer the support that is signposted.
  • the Welsh Government should work with NHS England as a matter of urgency to discuss options for the creation of a centre in north-east Wales that could serve both sides of the border.
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