Postnatal checks are 'failing' new mothers, says patient champion group

‘When I was pregnant, I received all the instructions I needed but once the baby was born, I felt on my own,’ says Amanda Richardson, who gave birth to a baby girl in July 2020.

The single mum from Hampshire suffered from anxiety and developed sleep and eating problems after having her child.

However, like 16% of new mothers surveyed in a recently-released poll, Amanda did not receive a six to eight-week postnatal check of her mental health – in fact, she wasn’t made aware of the assessment at all.

After starting therapy 18 months after her daughter was born (as a result of an asthma consultant picking up on possible symptoms of depression) she’s beginning to get better.

But her story could have been very different had she had the correct care.

‘I felt like I was underwater and couldn’t escape,’ added Amanda.

‘If I had had more support at the right time, my mental health would be better.’

Amanda’s experience highlights the large number of women who are falling through the cracks when it comes to this ‘key’ postpartum check.

Healthwatch England today revealed research suggesting a worrying lack of help for parents.

The patient champion group polled 2,700 people who’d recently given birth between October and December, with two-thirds saying they’d struggled with mental health during and after pregnancy.

Among this group, 41% said they received no support to help with their mental health at this time, while only 22% said were satisfied with the time their GP spent talking to them about their mental health.

Alongside those not offered the wellbeing appointment, 15% had had theirs over the phone, which Healthwatch England claim may be a barrier to parents verbalising their issues.

As a result of the findings, the organisation has made a series of recommendations to NHS England and local health bodies, aiming to help drive improvements in the six-week check.

‘If left untreated, poor mental health can have a devastating impact on new parents and their families,’ said Louise Ansari, Healthwatch England’s national director.’

‘Unfortunately, our findings show that although most new mothers and birthing parents are likely to be invited to a postnatal consultation, these are frequently carried out as a tick-box exercise where mental health is not treated as a priority or not assessed at all.’

Annie Belasco, head of the parent mental health support charity Pandas Foundation, also said: “The findings of Healthwatch England’s new research, alongside our own work, tell us that people are still struggling to access the right support at the right time.

‘The NHS is not making the most of opportunities to support women with the quality, timely mental health interventions which we know can save lives.

‘That’s why we need to ensure the experiences of those women who were let down by the system contribute to eliminating barriers and improving support for others.’

Need support?

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

If you’re a young person, or concerned about a young person, you can also contact PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide UK. Their HOPELINK digital support platform is open 24/7, or you can call 0800 068 4141, text 07860039967 or email: [email protected] between the hours of 9am and midnight.

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