Maps from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance show that pregnant women and new mums in a quarter of the UK still cannot access lifesaving specialist perinatal mental health services, which meet national guidelines.

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance welcomes the encouraging signs of progress seen in some parts of the UK but raises the alarm: there is not progress for all parts of the country at the same rate, meaning right now, women and families still face a postcode lottery. 

According to the new data, pregnant women and new mums in 24% of the UK still have no access to specialist perinatal mental health services (rated red on the map). The maps show that whilst many more women now live in an area coloured green on the map, meaning specialist perinatal mental health services are available in their locality, it is unacceptable that so many women and their families still cannot access essential care.

Since the last campaign maps in 2015, there have been improvements in services available to women and their families. NHS England has used new Government money to develop specialist services, and an announcement of the successful areas which will benefit from wave two of their community development fund is expected shortly and will lead to even more green on the map in England. In Wales, the Welsh Government has given money to local health boards who have rapidly improved services. In Scotland and Northern Ireland no prioritised funding for specialist community services has been made available to date.

More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. Women with the most severe perinatal illnesses need to be able to access vital specialist services wherever they live. If left untreated these illnesses can have a devastating impact on women and their families. In the most serious cases, perinatal mental illness can be life threatening: suicide is a leading cause of death for women during pregnancy and one year after giving birth. 

When a woman lives in an area where she is able to access specialist services, with a team of trained staff, it can make all the difference to her quality of care, speed of recovery and support both for her and relationships with her baby and family.

Kirsten, a mum from Peterborough, said: “In my first pregnancy, OCD led to all-consuming terror and to feeling like I couldn’t go on. I told 11 different professionals. I felt desperate, exhausted and invisible. In my second pregnancy I received coordinated services: medication, supportive frequent visits from specialist perinatal mental health staff and talking therapies. Completely life-changing for our family.” 

Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “Over ten years ago national guidelines said that specialist perinatal mental health services should be available for all women who need them. This still hasn't happened. We want to celebrate the new perinatal services that have been set up, but these maps show that there is still an urgent need for change on the ground. For women and families to be able to access specialist services, we need to see funding across all four nations of the UK. The job is not yet done. Women and families across the UK need this map to turn green.” 

Specialist perinatal mental health services save lives; they provide specialist treatment and can also act as a catalyst for change across the whole pathway, providing expertise and delivering training to a range of health and social care professionals including GPs, health visitors and midwives.

In order to correct the gaps that currently exist across all nations of the UK, the Everyone’s Business Campaign is calling for all areas of need to receive the necessary funding to end the postcode lottery for specialist services. Commitment at both the national and local level is needed to turn the map green and to ensure these funds actually result in lifesaving services for women and babies everywhere. 

Download the UK map as well as maps for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance website