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New mental health perinatal service takes shape and new mums receive support

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week - 12 to 16 June

A new specialist service which will offer targeted help to pregnant women and new mums with serious mental health difficulties has started to see it first patients after Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) recruited key staff to the team.

The new Community Perinatal Mental Health Service for Norfolk and Waveney started seeing a small number of service users in April following the successful recruitment of two consultant psychiatrists, clinical team leader and new nursing staff.

The remaining staff members are expected to be in post by September, taking the total number to 14 whole time equivalents, when the service will officially launch and will include psychologists, an assistant psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker, nursery nurses and administrators.

NSFT has been awarded nearly £2.5m by NHS England to develop the service over the next three years. By the third year, it will aim to offer specialist care to 525 pregnant women and new mothers from Norfolk and Waveney with serious mental health difficulties, as well as providing support for the rest of the family and training for other healthcare professionals.

The service will cater for people with conditions such as severe post-natal depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis, and will also offer pre-conception advice about medication and the support needed by woman with a known mental illness wishing to conceive. Women will be able to stay under the care of the team until their child is a year old, where appropriate, and can then receive ongoing support from NSFT’s community teams if necessary.

The news comes during Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 12 to 16 June and highlights the importance of a baby’s first 1001 days, starting from its conception and continuing until it reaches its second birthday.

Dr Rebecca Horne, Consultant Psychiatrist with NSFT, said: “We are really pleased with the way this new service is developing and look forward to launching fully in September so that we can transform the care which mums-to-be and new mothers with mental health difficulties receive.

“Our aim is to make sure mothers and their infants receive prompt assessment and treatment, such as talking therapies or medication, which is specially tailored to meet their individual needs. We are also working very closely with our midwifery and health visiting colleagues across Norfolk and Waveney so that we can ensure these women receive well-coordinated care.

“We will also be providing education for others involved in the care of pregnant and post-partum women, including other psychiatric teams, GPs, midwives, health visitors and Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney, so that they can help us identify those at risk at an early stage.”

The successful application for funding was made jointly by NSFT and NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

Speaking for the CCGs in Norfolk and Waveney, Clive Rennie, Assistant Director Integrated Commissioning (Mental Health and Learning Disabilities), said: “Everyone can be very proud of the joint bid which allowed this service to be put in place.

“Clinics are being established in acute hospitals and in children's centres. When fully implemented, we expect more than 500 women a year will benefit from this service as well as their children and families.”

The service has been developed in partnership with maternity services at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and James Paget Hospital, as well as Cambridgeshire Community Trust, which provides health visiting services and nursery nurses.

Naomi Farrow, who set up the Get Me Out The Four Walls support group after suffering from post-natal depression, has also worked closely with NSFT throughout and sits on interview panels when staff have been recruited.

Susan Stolworthy, Clinical Team Leader with the service, said: “This is a specialist area of work so we are delighted that we are able to provide a specific service caring for these women and their babies.

“We want to receive referrals at an early stage in pregnancy, as evidence shows that existing mental health problems can get worse just before or after birth. The same applies for new mothers suffering with post-natal depression – we want to reach them as quickly as possible so that they can get the specialist help they need and go on to enjoy a happy, healthy life with their new baby.

“We have worked closely with our service users throughout and will be using their expertise to help us gather feedback after the service has fully launched so that we can make sure the care and support we are providing continues to meet their needs.”

The funding was awarded to NSFT after figures showed an estimated 360 women in Norfolk and Waveney have severe perinatal mental health needs, with a further 3,000-5,000 with mild to moderate needs. Previously, these women received care from midwives, health visitors and secondary mental health services and Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney.

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