Young mumNHS England has launched a new programme that aims to help an extra 30,000 new or expectant mums who experience serious mental ill health each year, offering them the right care at the right time in a bid to reduce the rare tragedies that can occur when it is left untreated.

As a first step, NHS England is launching a £5 million Perinatal Community Services Development Fund to help close the gap in the availability of high quality care for women with severe or complex conditions: fewer than 15% of areas currently provide services to levels recommended in national guidelines, and more than 40% provide no service at all.

These specialist community services provide care and support to women with a mental illness in pregnancy or the postnatal period. They also respond to crises, aim to decrease risks to mothers and babies and offer after care following an inpatient stay in a mother and baby unit. The cost of perinatal mental ill health to society is estimated at £8.1 billion for each annual birth cohort, or almost £10,000 per birth.

As many as 1 in 5 women experience mental ill health during pregnancy or in the year after birth, covering a range of conditions including depression, anxiety and post-partum psychosis. The latter affects about 2 in every 1,000 new mothers and suicide is the second leading cause of maternal death, after cardiovascular disease.

Overall, £365 million has been allocated for specialist perinatal mental health services over the next 5 years, so that by 2021 30,000 more women each year will be able to access care and treatment.

Dr Giles Berrisford, associate national clinical director for perinatal mental health, said: “We absolutely need to ensure that all women have the access to high quality perinatal mental health care and are committed to addressing current issues and variation. If left untreated, it can have a devastating impact on the woman affected and her family.

“I am delighted that we can use this fund to build capacity in the community, focusing on what works really well for women and their families and how we can help to spread some of this good practice to other parts of the country speedily and to best effect.”

Health leaders can now submit proposals, focusing on increasing access and improving quality. Local systems will be able to request funding for up to 3 years, and total funding available will increase to £15 million next year and £40 million in 2018.

Successful schemes will implement new ways of improving specialist perinatal mental health community care in response to the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, which said that by 2020/21, NHS England should support at least 30,000 more women each year to access evidence-based specialist mental health care during the perinatal period.

NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and Sustainability and Transformation areas can submit proposals and must show detailed plans to improve services and measure outcomes.

They will need to show how they will either widen the reach of their service to more places or improve resources for a small team to help more people. They must be explicit about how the growth or creation of the team will provide additional care to greater numbers of women, and provide information on how new staff will be trained adequately to fill the specialist roles.

Plans must include how they will sustainably deliver the best treatment and outcomes for women and families and outcomes from the work will be used to inform and support other areas’ development.

Proposals should be for investment up to three years as the size of the fund grows. There will be two key waves of funding – one from 2016/17 and a second from 2018/19. From 2019/20, monies will be mainstreamed into CCG allocations. There is no minimum or maximum bid.