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Perinatal mental health: ‘We must do more’

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Doctors have called for an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ of services for women with mental ill health to stop mothers being separated from their babies for want of hospital beds.

The call was made at the BMA annual representative meeting 2018 in Brighton today, which heard that some parts of the UK lacked any beds for women to be cared for with their babies in the same wards.

‘There are no perinatal mental health beds in Northern Ireland, nor in Wales,’ north-west staff grade psychiatrist Kelly Cruickshank told the meeting.

While recent extra funding for perinatal mental health was welcomed, it was ‘not enough’, she added. The NHS was failing vulnerable women, she added. ‘We must do more.’

One mother she helped when she was a junior doctor had to be treated in the community instead of in a hospital bed because there were none available, Dr Cruickshank told the meeting.

‘We had a young lady, brave enough to come to emergency care to say that she felt unsafe owing to her mental illness. In that post-natal period, she began to struggle and she approached us for help,’ she added.

‘She was agreeable to coming into hospital. I had to tell her that we couldn’t get a bed for her and her baby.

‘At which point she refused to come in and we were left to manage this vulnerable, high-risk woman in the community. This is unacceptable.’

The meeting also heard that women who had been separated from their babies were sometimes discharged from perinatal care, leaving them unsupported when they needed help the most.

The motion, voted for unanimously, called for:

  • No mother to be separated from her baby for lack of a bed in the area
  • When babies are removed, they should have a plan in place for support, which is provided by local authorities
  • The BMA should also draw up best-practice guidelines to support mothers whose babies are removed.

Read the BMA News digital feature ‘Separated at birth’

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