Mother and baby mental health unit for Wales considered

By David Deans
BBC News

  • Published
Baby holding mother's handImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The units allow mothers to have mental health treatment without being split from their child

A key Welsh NHS body is examining whether a mother and baby unit for mothers who suffer with mental health problems should be reopened.

Campaigners including Mind Cymru say some mothers who need support have had long journeys to England for treatment.

The last Welsh unit closed in Cardiff in 2013, but reopening a unit has been now proposed as a potential option for the future of perinatal mental health services in Wales.

No decision has yet been made.

Mother and baby units (MBUs) provide specialist care to women with mental health problems such as severe postnatal depression and postpartum psychosis, in a place where they can be treated and stay with their newborn child.

Further evidence is being sought by Welsh Health Specialist Services Committee (WHSSC) following a study which suggested three possible ways forward:

  • a single regional mother and baby unit for Wales
  • a mother and baby unit established for south Wales with services for north Wales contracted in England
  • services provided by a single contractor in NHS England for the whole of Wales

The last MBU in Wales existed until 2013 when it was closed due to an insufficient number of women using the service, as well as staffing and resources issues.

From 2014 mothers who have needed specialist care have been placed at MBUs in England, at a cost of £798,000.

'Not fit for purpose'

Many women who need support face a choice "between receiving inpatient care more locally but being separated from their infant, or remaining with their infant in a specialist unit but needing to travel away from their support networks", according to a report drawn up for WHSSC.

"As there is no single contract in place, securing a bed can be a lengthy process for the referring clinician and access is totally reliant on the availability of a bed," the report said.

A further document, seen by WHSSC's joint committee on Tuesday, said in many cases women choose to access local acute psychiatric services that are "not fit for purpose and lack specialist knowledge".

As the committee decided to seek further evidence, WHSSC's acting managing director Stuart Davies said: "Issues for further consideration included the availability of evidence of current outcomes, the demand for an in-patient service and the sustainability of a local unit."

A spokeswoman for WHSSC added that, given no decision had been made, all three options were still open.

The Welsh Government allocated £1.5m per year in 2015 to improve care for women with or at risk of perinatal mental health problems.

The money is being used to set up specialist community mental health services in Wales' seven health boards.