Thank you to everyone who has contacted me recently about postnatal mental health and the related campaign by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
I completely agree that all expectant mothers should be confident that the NHS can give the best possible care to them and their babies at what is one of the most important times in their lives.
The stress and upheaval of pregnancy and becoming a parent can trigger existing mental health problems or spark new ones. One way to prevent women from feeling isolated is to identify those mental health issues and ensure that proper support is in place. Sadly, too often that does not happen.
Experts say that three to four months post-birth is the time when mothers are at the most substantial risk of perinatal mental health problems. However, health visitors have been cut by more than 20% in just over two years and between 2016-17 and 2017-18 local authorities will have had £55.2 million in real-terms cut from their public health 0-5 years children’s services.
Research by the NCT has found that nearly half of all the mental health problems experienced by new mothers are not picked up by health professionals. The six week postnatal baby check is mandatory, but the maternal check was left out of the most recent GP contract. As a result, the maternal check is often not done at all or becomes a rushed conversation at the end of the baby check.
I support the NCT’s #HiddenHalf campaign, which calls on the Government to fund the six week maternal postnatal check so that GPs have the time to give every new mother a full appointment. Earlier this year I tabled a parliamentary question on this very subject, asking the Secretary of State for Health what steps his department was taking to ensure that all mothers are asked about their mental health at their six week check.
More widely, I support the introduction of an additional mandated health visit for new mothers at three to four months. This would require an additional £25 million for health visiting – paid for as part of a new National Child Health Fund – a commitment outlined in the manifesto on which I stood last year.