Mental health support for new parents raised

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

The Department of Health has said work is ongoing to deliver comprehensive mental health services for new parents and their children as part of a wider overhaul, in response to criticism levelled by SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan.

The department (DoH) has said a range of work is currently under way to address issues identified in perinatal care, which relates to the weeks immediately before and after the birth of a child.

SDLP Health spokesperson, Mr Durkan called for the development of a Regional Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Board to oversee improved support services for new parents and their families.

His call follows an investment of £50 million in perinatal mental health from the Scottish Government announced earlier this month, while Mr Durkan claimed Northern Ireland’s current provision was ‘appalling.’

He said: “Since I launched the NSPCC report on perinatal mental health at the end of last year, political stagnation means there has been a failure to implement recommendations or progress this vital issue.

“The establishment of a targeted forum of specialist clinicians is crucial if we are to tackle this problem head on. Considering 20 per cent of women and between 5-10 per cent of men will suffer from perinatal mental health at any given time, it is unforgivable that support services here continue to lag far behind our counterparts elsewhere in the UK. No parent should suffer in silence during what can prove a socially isolating time for many- a baby’s good health relies on the good health of their mother and by extension their father, which is why the issue of perinatal mental health is so vital.”

Mr Durkan said people talking more openly about mental health generally was breaking down barriers and that the issue of perinatal mental health is “seemingly the last taboo.”

A DoH spokesperson responded that the Regional Integrated Perinatal Mental Health Care Pathway provides guidance to all health and social care professionals who come in contact with women in the antenatal and postnatal period and reflects current guidelines and standards of care required across a range of health sectors, including the role of specialist community Perinatal Mental Health Teams.

“A regional perinatal mental health group led by the Public Health Agency was established in October 2017 to take forward the recommendations of the RQIA review of perinatal mental health services, working in partnership with the Health and Social Care Board to commission perinatal mental health services. Progress is ongoing and funding has been allocated to HSC Trusts to ensure that appropriate equipment and facilities are available within all relevant general adult psychiatric inpatient units to meet the needs of a mother and her baby and older children during visits,” he said.

“Members of the regional group have also visited a number of Mother and Baby Units in the United Kingdom and Ireland and, using a review of evidence-based best practice and the learning from the visits, the regional group will work to co-produce a service model to include comprehensive community-based services for perinatal mental health for Northern Ireland. As part of the work a whole family approach is considered to ensure the best outcome possible.”