Crisis in Maternal Mental Health Care Uncovered: Thousands of Women Denied Support in the UK

Maternal Mental Health Crisis

Almost 20,000 women suffering from maternal mental health problems as a result of pregnancies or births are not being offered essential care, causing the NHS to be put under scrutiny.

However, some regions of England have seen waits for treatment exceeding 19 months due to excessive demand on consultant services where such women go to for help.

This disturbing scenario has caused anger, with experts describing it as “an absolute scandal,” and raises concerns that shortage and delay in essential care may isolate vulnerable mothers and lead to life-long health consequences for both them and their children.

They may also experience challenges in bonding with their babies hence negatively impacting the crucial 1st 1000 days of a child’s life.

According to Dr Rosena Allin-Khan who was the former shadow mental health minister for Labour, this information is based on data obtained recently from Freedom of Information requests from 54 NHS mental health trusts across the country.

Shockingly, last year alone saw 11,507 women assessed by 34 specialist trusts without any treatment being provided for their maternal mental health issues.

If this figure is extrapolated to the other twenty trusts that did not provide figures, there is a possibility of denial of care reaching almost nineteen thousand mothers all over England.

Dr Allin-Khan said she was deeply troubled by this: “No mother should be left behind to suffer in silence” as well as stressing how important support is during the crucial postnatal period.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust did not give treatment after assessment to 1,644 women while similar cases happened in Essex (929), Kent And Medway(924).

However, only three trusts among them – Norfolk & Suffolk Mental Health Trusts; Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust- only had one denial of care reported amongst those who sought help during the previous year.

“The unacceptable situation” according to President Maternal Mental Health Alliance Dr Alain Gregoire “is because of resources being stretched beyond capacity.”

He explains how this results in a form of clinical care rationing where hard-working staff are making impossible decisions.

Despite efforts by NHS England to create what it called “a world leading programme” that would expand maternal mental health support, the crisis continues.

In response to questions about the high numbers of denied care incidences as well as lengthy waiting periods, NHS England chose not to comment when approached.

This inconsistency and under-resourcing have resulted in NCT CEO Angela McConville being alarmed at the ‘dangerously patchy and unreliable’ provision of maternal mental health support services.

It puts the health and well-being of new parents and their infants at risk if they have inconsistent or inadequate resourcing.

The lack of NHS care has meant that more complex cases are now being referred out to external agencies like NCT, exacerbating an already overburdened system.

Additionally, reductions in specialist perinatal mental health midwifery posts mean that signs indicating psychological distress among pregnant women and new mothers may be missed.

One report from the annual confidential enquiry into maternal deaths mentioned that such delays increase the risks of maternal suicide.

Suicide was the main direct cause of death between six weeks and twelve months after childbirth.

On the other hand, a spokesperson for the NHS pointed out that there has been an increase in the number of specialist maternal mental health services with approximately 51,000 new mothers treated within the past year, which is a nearly 70% increase than three years ago.

However, this critical service still faces criticism over lack of availability and timely access across local health systems.

While the NHS receives mounting criticism for denying and delaying maternal mental health support, it is being urged to act now.

There are increased requests for better resources, staffing, and more accessible routes that would ensure safety of further negative consequences on mothers’ mental health and well-being.

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  • Crisis in Maternal Mental Health Care Uncovered: Thousands of Women Denied Support in the UK