Up to 20% of women develop a mental illness during their pregnancy or within the first year after having their baby. With this in mind, Heather Tierney-Moore, Chief Executive shares her experience of mobilising a brand new, Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service for women living across Cumbria and Lancashire and why this is such an important milestone for people involved in perinatal mental health care.
In June 2017, NHS England selected the Trust as a preferred provider to run one of the four, new eight-bed mother and baby units (MBU) in the country. The plans for the opening of a unit in Lancashire, came as part of a £40 million investment in inpatient perinatal care particularly in areas with significant access issues. In May 2018, we were also successful in a bid to provide a specialist community perinatal mental health service for both new and expecting mums experiencing perinatal mental health problems that do not require a hospital admission. We are one of thirty-five new sites across the country to have received the funding, as part of a drive by NHS England to enable access to specialist perinatal mental health community services across the country by April 2019.
Perinatal mental illnesses are a major public health issue with approximately 1 in 5 women developing a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. Our priority is to provide the right care, at the right time, every time and by providing this specialist service across Cumbria and Lancashire, we are ensuring that women who are at risk of, or suffering from, perinatal mental illnesses are given appropriate support at the earliest opportunity. When we began our journey to develop this new specialist service, we wanted to make sure that it absolutely met the needs of local women and their families and recognised the need to engage with them from the very start. For the past eighteen months, we have been working closely with many mums with lived experience of perinatal mental health problems to co-produce and develop the service in order to meet their needs. This has included everything from the artwork and design of Ribblemere to the recruitment of staff out in the community. This has been an exciting part of our journey, and has involved pulling people from all different backgrounds, who really care and are keen to be involved and help us to get things right for the mums in our care. We recruited the staff for Ribblemere MBU in the Springtime, this allowed the team to have a good period of time to train up together, familiarise themselves with the new site and think about how they were going to work together as a team going forward. As part of this. staff visited a number of existing MBU’s across the country, in order to learn, share best practice, with the aim of taking away the best aspects from each to be able to make the unit here in Lancashire, as exemplar as possible. We have also been working alongside our partners at Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), a national charity for women and families affected by Postpartum Psychosis (PP) to develop a network of peer support workers to provide support for mums under our care. We now employ a member of staff from APP who provides peer support to women and their family members. This offer has been extremely valuable in enabling us to raise awareness of perinatal mental health and supporting staff to get an in-depth understanding of the conditions and the principles of peer support, as part of their training and development.
Ribblemere opened late last year and provides support to women experiencing severe mental health problems following the birth of their baby, including very serious conditions such as post-partum psychosis. Having the unit here in Lancashire means that women have timely access to care, support, treatment, and a safe environment where they can be cared for alongside their babies, so that this relationship can be established, maintained and nurtured. The unit is staffed by a multidisciplinary team, across psychiatry, nursing and nursery care and is co-located alongside our general inpatient wards and maternity services at the onsite Acute hospital. We deliberately chose the location to enable staff to be able to easily work alongside professionals across maternity and mental health services so that we can build strong relationships and enhance the care that we are offering to new mothers and their babies.
Previously, women living in the area have had to travel out of the county to receive treatment alongside their babies, with the nearest MBU located in Wythenshawe in Manchester. Mums have also had to be treated on general mental health wards, without their babies and away from their families, which has added to their distress. Often the focus is on the mum, but we recognised the importance of ensuring that families are supported too. As part of this we developed a flat on site which is available for partners and families to stay, in in order to try and take some of the pressure off those who are travelling from afar and to support mum to recover as quickly as possible, with their family by their side.
We have now treated over 15 mums from across the patch and have received some fantastic feedback from mums, their families and visitors that Ribblemere really is an amazing environment for caring for and treating those with perinatal mental health problems. We have recently expanded our offer for women and have launched our specialist community perinatal mental health service, which offers psychiatric and psychological assessments and care for women out in the community. The service also provides pre-conception advice for women with a current or past severe mental illness who are planning a pregnancy so that women can get the advice and support they need for a safe pregnancy. The community team work closely with the MBU Team and existing services including maternity services, health visiting, and community mental health teams to ensure that there is continuity of care for mums and their families.
I am extremely proud to have been able to set up this service, knowing how much it was needed. We are already seeing the difference it is making to the families that needed it and know that it will help to give their babies a positive start in life, which in turn will help their mental wellbeing in the future.
For more information please visit www.lancashirecare.nhs.uk/perinatal-mental-health.