Only 3% of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England have a perinatal mental health strategy in place, and fewer than half have any plans to put one in place, new Freedom of Information (FoI) data has revealed.
Parenting charity NCT sent FoI requests to 194 CCGs in England and 186 replied. Only 5 said they had a strategy. Out of the remaining 97%, 60% have no plans to put one in place, while 18% said they were planning to develop one or are in the process of doing so.
Meanwhile, 15% of CCGs were unable to offer any information and directed the charity to local NHS trusts or NHS England, suggesting a lack of clarity about who is responsible for commissioning and providing services.
The charity also contacted 193 NHS trusts to ask if they were able to provide a perinatal mental health service with trained specialists. More than half of all trusts (54%) said that they do not provide any perinatal mental health service, although 33 trusts did not respond to the FoI request.
Only 26% of the trusts provide a dedicated perinatal mental health service. But just 13% of trusts contacted have a full team in place. In addition, 14% employ only one specialist perinatal mental health midwife or doctor, frequently on a part-time basis.
However, the expected provision of care, as outlined in a recent report by the NHS Confederation, is that every ward or midwife-led unit should have a specialist mental health midwife to provide more specialist care and to act as an advocate for good perinatal mental health among the other staff.
Huge gaps in provision
Belinda Phipps, CEO of NCT, said: “One in 10 mothers experience some form of postnatal depression, but there are clearly huge gaps in the support and care being provided to them across England.
“While we found some areas with excellent care, too often we have found situations where there is no care, or very little care. If there are whole areas where GPs, midwives and health visitors have no training or time to dedicate to this vital service then women will not get the help and support they need. For many parents this will result in months of misery, damaging both family relations and children's wellbeing. And, in the most extreme circumstances, it will result in tragedy and loss of life.
"We need to see properly staffed and resourced services with clear lines of responsibility and clear targets for delivery. And we need to see that happening urgently. ”