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New mothers ‘not told how to find mental health support’

A survey by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has highlighted access to midwives after giving birth, continuity of care and perinatal mental health as areas for improvement in maternity services.

Published yesterday (January 28), the findings of CQC’s 2019 maternity survey highlights women’s views on all aspects of their maternity care, from the first time they saw a clinician or midwife. through to the care provided at home in the weeks following the arrival of their baby.

The CQC found that the most positive results from the survey, which featured 126 NHS trusts, relate to women’s experience of interacting and communicating with staff in maternity services, particularly during labour and birth.

It found that 84% of women who gave birth in February last year had confidence and trust in staff, and 83% said they were ‘always’ listened to by midwives and received appropriate advice at the start of labour.

However, 12% said they were not told they may experience a change to their mental health after giving birth, with 20% saying they were not told who to speak to about any changes.

Of those questioned, 54% said that none of the midwives involved in their postnatal care had been involved in either their antenatal care or their labour, with only 28% saying they saw the same midwife every time during their postnatal care.

And although 62% of women said they were always able to get a member of staff to help them when they needed attention in hospital after the birth, a quarter said they would have liked to see a midwife more often after going home.

Commenting on the survey, Nigel Acheson, the CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for maternity, said:

‘The positive feedback from many women completing this survey is a reflection of the hard work and commitment shown by staff working in hospital maternity services across the country.

‘However, it is disappointing that postnatally experiences continue to fall short, particularly in regard to women’s mental health needs.

‘It is absolutely right that the provision of specialist mental health services for pregnant women and new mothers has been recognised as a priority in the NHS long term plan and we hope to see the impact of this extended support in next year’s survey results.

‘It is essential that trusts make full use of their individual survey results to identify where changes can be made to ensure consistent and high-quality care for the benefit of all women and their families.’

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), welcomed the survey’s findings, but added that more midwives are needed if the  quality and availability of postnatal services are to improve:

‘It’s really encouraging to see an improvement in many areas of maternity care and we are particularly pleased that the majority of women surveyed felt they were always listened to by their midwife.

‘Continuity of care is crucial to ensure pregnant women receive safe and high-quality care, but we must have enough midwives to get this right. We will continue to work with NHS trusts and boards, and the relevant health departments, to ensure this is a priority.

‘We are also concerned to see that women felt let down by the accessibility of postnatal care. We know that one in five* women using maternity services are affected by maternal mental health problems yet there are not enough specialist midwives to care for them.

‘A UK-wide RCM survey of heads of midwifery in 2019 found over a third of maternity services do not employ any specialist maternal mental health midwives, and this must be tackled as a matter of urgency.’

‘While we welcome the UK Government’s commitment to recruit more midwives, we currently remain 2,500 midwives short in England alone. If the shortage is not addressed and prioritised, our maternity services will continue to struggle to support women. More midwives mean women will get the care, time and support they truly deserve.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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