Mental health care for new mothers in Wales ‘unacceptable’

Pregnant woman

Calls have been made for a specialist mother and baby unit to open in Wales to help those suffering mental illness.

The lack of in-patient care for women suffering from severe perinatal mental health illnesses has been described as unacceptable by a committee of AMs.

The Children and Young People’s committee of the assembly supported calls for the re-opening of a specialist mother and baby unit (MBU).

Wales’ own unit was closed in 2013 with mothers sent to units in England.

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The Welsh Government said it was committed to providing specialist inpatient care.

The committee’s report recommended that a MBU be established in south Wales to provide an all-Wales service.

Given this may not be suitable for mothers and families in mid and north Wales, the committee also called for the Welsh Government to discuss with NHS England setting up a cross-border service in north east Wales.

Medical guidelines state women who need inpatient care for mental health should normally be admitted to a MBU.

Beds are sought in units in England but officials told AMs the process was fraught with difficulties.

About 60-80 women a year are also treated in adult psychiatric wards, the report said, but AMs heard the wards were “not suitable” to treat perinatal mothers given it requires the separation of mother and baby.

“We believe that the provision of inpatient care to mothers with severe cases of perinatal mental illness is wholly inadequate,” the report said.

“While we accept that the most specialist of services will sometimes require patients to travel, the current uncertainty of arrangements with England is unacceptable,” the report said.

It added: “To minimise the distances women and their families need to travel to access the care they need, specialist in-patient provision needs to be developed within Wales.”

The Welsh Government has announced £1.5m for community-based services in the Welsh NHS – but the committee heard that services among its seven health boards varied.

Staci Sylvan, from Carmarthen, has suffered with mental health problems after both of her pregnancies.

She told BBC Radio Wales’ Good Morning Wales programme: “I went from being really happy to have a baby to not really knowing who I was, what I was doing, feeling very scared and not knowing where I could go for help.

“It did develop into having hallucinations after a couple of weeks.”

She said she felt health visitors were not properly trained to recognise her symptoms and she reached “crisis point” before being offered a stay at the MBU unit at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales – which has since closed.

‘Developing options’

Sally Wilson, 36, who lives near Bangor, Gwynedd, suffered with post-partum psychosis and was treated in the community after she was discharged from an adult psychiatric unit.

Ms Wilson was offered a MBU bed in Manchester but little information was given to her about the benefits of such treatment.

“I think ideally my family and friends should have had enough information to make an informed decision about whether I should have gone into a mother and baby unit, and enough staff and resources to have specialist perinatal mental health professionals working with people that are that ill,” Ms Wilson said.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee has been developing options this year to improve perinatal mental healthcare in Wales and we are committed to providing specialist inpatient care in Wales.

“There are now community teams in each health board in Wales,” she added.

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