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RCM push for greater perinatal support for women, following ‘sobering’ report

The ‘Strengthening Perinatal Mental Health’ report, published today by the RCM, has revealed significant concerns about the state of perinatal support in the NHS.

The RCM is warning that vital perinatal mental health support is ‘on the precipice’, as it releases a new roadmap to improve support for women in it’s report, ‘Strengthening Perinatal Mental Health’.

The RCM’s Executive Director, Midwife, Birte Harlev-Lam OBE, said: ‘midwives need time to care and there needs to be more midwives to share the workload. We are not asking for the moon; we estimate that fewer than 350 additional specialist perinatal mental health midwives could bring about the results that we all want to see.’

The report revealed that 1 in 5 women will experience mental health challenges during pregnancy or up to one year after birth. It also reported that between 2018 and 2020, suicide was the leading cause of maternal death in the first year after a woman gives birth.

Despite this, research found that mental health needs remain secondary to the physical health needs of women during and immediately after pregnancy. Ms Harlev-Lam OBE said: ‘mental ill-health ranks with physical factors as one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in the UK, and yet this is not reflected in the resources allocated to it, whether in terms of staffing or other support.’

According to the 2023 RCM member survey into perinatal mental health only 68% of respondents received annual training on perinatal mental health. Indicators such as this point to a broader picture of staff burnout, over-reliance on midwives to cover staff shortages and a lack of physical space within hospitals to check in with women in their care.

The Roadmap, revealed within the report, highlights to ‘irrefutable’ economic and social case for more mental health resources. It states that when mental ill-health remains undiagnosed and untreated, it costs the state approximately an additional £8.1 billion each year. The RCM are calling for a further 347 midwives in order to deliver at scale an integrated model of care, and plug the gaps within the existing midwifery staffing shortfall.

Among the key changes the RCM are calling for to improve perinatal mental health support in the UK are:

  • All professionals working with women in the perinatal period have the necessary knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental health.
  • Every maternity service has a minimum whole-time equivalent Band 7 perinatal specialist midwife.
  • All maternity professionals should be equally concerned with mental as well as physical health in pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal period.

Midwives are just part of the solution, says the RCM. The representative body is advocating for a fundamental shift on the perceptions and treatment of mental ill-health. The report concludes that to give midwives the time to care, a ‘comprehensive review’ of midwifery training through the lens of peri-natal support is essential.