Maternity & Midwifery Forum
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Midwifery Sector News

Cut adrift: Pandemic leaves 16,000 pregnant women and new mothers without mental health support

Up to 1 in 5 women will experience mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth and two thirds of women will hide or underplay their illness.

These figures can only be expected to have been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 and yet new research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Mental Health Watch has revealed that up to 16,000 pregnant women and new mothers could not get vital help with their mental health during pregnancy or right after giving birth because of the pandemic and “the postcode lottery in maternal mental health”.

Perinatal mental health support was considered to be broadly on track before the pandemic. In 2019/20, 30,625 women accessed perinatal mental health services, against the expectation of 32,000 outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

However in the most recent data released for the 2020 calendar year only 31,261 women managed to get help with problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts in pregnancy and early motherhood against an expectation of 47,000.

The pandemic can not be considered the only reason why the mental health and well being of thousands of women has been overlooked. Variation in care across the country due to lack of local investment in perinatal mental health services means that in many areas of England pregnant women and new mums simply can’t access the mental health support they need.

Discussing the latest analysis Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who works in perinatal mental health, said:

“Many women can develop mental health problems for the first time during pregnancy and after birth, or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.

“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times but services have been under unprecedented strain. Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for funding for perinatal mental health facilities in the next spending review. This new investment will mean more women needing support can be treated, and that the mental health estate is fit for purpose, with suitable and welcoming spaces that can contribute to patients’ recovery.

Paul Rushworth
Maternity & Midwifery Forum

Find out more

Since their inception nearly a decade ago, our midwifery festivals have prioritised perinatal mental, making it one of the key issues we hoped to raise awareness of, explore in more depth and help improve. We have heard from many excellent speakers over the years, a small selection of their presentations are below.

Kathryn Gutteridge – Perinatal Mental Health: Can Midwives Make a Difference?

Jenny Burns – Building Capacity in Primary Care for Perinatal Mental Health

Emma Adamson – Care Planning in Perinatal Mental Health


Natalie Patterson & Laura Bradley – Providing a Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service