postnatal depressionA national network of specialist health professionals has been launched in Scotland, with the aim of improving mental health services for new mothers.

The Managed Clinical Network brings together health professionals who work in perinatal and infant mental health. This joint expert leadership will identify gaps in current perinatal care and pathways for care. It will develop and implement guidelines and best practice, helping to improve standards and make sure everyone gets the same level high level of care regardless of where they live. Beyond this, it will seek to contribute to improved early years’ health and development for infants as part of a broader Scottish Government intention for improved early intervention.

The NSPCC and Mental Welfare Commission separately did reviews of perinatal mental health in 2015 and then 2016. Both recommended the establishment of a clinical network, as have organisations and individuals involved with supporting mothers with mental health problems. This is the first time one has been established for mental health in Scotland. 

A lead clinician will now be appointed for the network. They will be assisted by additional dedicated maternity, nursing and infant mental health experts and management support. The network will be fully operational this year. Its work will be agreed by a steering group through the overarching direction of NHS National Services Scotland, which will monitor its activity and effect.

Minister for Mental Health Maureen Watt said: “The establishment of this first network for mental health is a sign of our determination to give mental health parity alongside physical health. These clinical networks operate in other parts of the health service and they have a proven track record for driving up standards of care.

“We know that perinatal mental health problems do not just affect mothers, they can also have a negative impact on the child. In fact, this can be one of the biggest risk factors that can lead to children having poorer outcomes in later life. 

“Our new mental health strategy will contain a specific focus on allowing children to start their lives with good mental health. This new network will provide a focus for that, enabling us to improve standards for all children and new mothers right across Scotland.”

Dr Roch Cantwell, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland's Faculty of Perinatal Psychiatry, welcomed the network: “Mental health problems affect 1 in 5 women during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth, often causing significant difficulties for women and their families. 

“We know there are effective treatments but these are not always available when and where needed. This new network is an excellent start to ensuring that every woman in Scotland who requires help with mental health problems, receives prompt effective care from professionals who are skilled to meet her needs."

Dr Gary Morrison, executive director (medical), at the Mental Welfare Commission, added: “New mothers and mothers-to-be who experience mental ill health are particularly in need of good quality care. We welcome this announcement by the Scottish Government. Their commitment to establishing a Scotland-wide network will allow a much greater sharing of expertise between health care teams, and reduce the variation in care that women currently receive. It will help improve care for women who are unwell at this time in their lives, wherever they live in Scotland.”