Specialist mental health support pledged for new and expectant mums in England is set to make the nation a ‘world leader’ in care for mothers and babies. A £23m boost will expand access to perinatal services to cover the entire country within a year, ending a postcode lottery and leading to life-saving improvements, it is claimed.

NHS England this week confirmed the second wave of a scheme enabling new mothers and pregnant women to access perinatal mental health community services in every area of England by April 2019. The roll-out is part of a £365m package set to transform specialist perinatal services by 2021 and allow at least 30,000 additional women to access treatment closer to home, when they need it.

As recently as 2014 it was estimated that good access to perinatal mental health care was available to only three percent of the country. But the funding means that specialist teams can offer psychiatric and psychological assessments and care for women with complex or severe mental health problems via community services and at in-patient mother and baby units, as well as providing pre-conception advice for women with a current or past severe mental illness who are planning to become pregnant.

These teams can be made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and nursery nurses, as well as admin staff, who are all working together to provide a comprehensive service to mums depending on their individual needs.

One in five women experiences a mental health problem during pregnancy and in the first year after birth, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most common. Perinatal services can play an important role in ensuring that the mental wellbeing of the mum, the baby and other family members is integrated into overall healthcare at the earliest possible stage.

NHS England national mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “Mental ill health doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time and it disrupts life not just for mums but the whole family, which is why we are absolutely committed to driving forward improvements in care and ensuring this important area of mental health continues to get the attention it deserves.

“Women with lived-in experience can play a pivotal role when it comes to shaping the services for others and influencing how we plan and deliver care as effectively as possible. What we are now starting to see is evidence-based NHS services growing in parts of the country where there used to be limited or no provision at all. Thanks to a continuing investment in services and a concerted effort from dedicated staff up and down the country, we are making huge strides forward and sooner rather than later we will turn England’s specialist perinatal mental health map green.”

Maternal Mental Health Alliance chair Dr Alain Gregoire said: “In over 30 years working for the NHS, I have never seen any national programme produce such a rapid, effective and widespread transformation in services. These new, top quality services have led directly to life-saving improvements in care for women and babies that will hugely reduce immediate and long-term suffering.

“The new developments announced in England look set to eliminate a long-standing and serious postcode lottery and will undoubtedly make England the world leader in mental health care for mothers and babies.”

Mental illnesses are increasingly being taken into consideration by health insurance providers, with more than eight out of 10 private medical insurance policies now covering mental health. And it’s also a significant factor in employees taking time off work, explaining more than a quarter of income protection claims, according to our insurance partner Aegon.