New mothers will be given a physical and mental health check six weeks after giving birth, in a victory for campaigners.
From April, the 600,000 women a year who have babies in England will undergo an assessment of their health and wellbeing with either a GP or practice nurse at their surgery.
The appointments will be dedicated to exploring the mother’s health and be separate to the six-week check that all babies already receive. However, many of them will occur immediately before or after the infant’s check, to make the best use of mothers’ and NHS staff’s time.
Until now many women have either not had a postnatal check or had only a very brief one during their baby’s appointment, often because of time pressures. That has left many feeling unable to raise issues about their own health and led to concerns that some conditions are being missed.
The change has been widely welcomed. It is expected to lead to better identification of mental health problems that can arise from pregnancy and birth such as postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and quicker treatment for those who need it.
NHS England has agreed to pay the £12m cost of the initiative as part of a new five-year contract with GP leaders in England, under which they will expand the services they offer. Women are expected to have at least 10 minutes with the GP or nurse carrying out the check.
“This additional funding for the six-week postnatal check will enable GPs to ensure that the mother receives a proper maternal check, as well as the baby, which is so crucial. We know that for some women with pregnancy-related mental illness, if identified early by a GP they can be treated close to their home and avoid any condition escalating,” said Gill Walton, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives.
Dr Nikita Kanani, a London GP and the NHS’s medical director for primary care, said: “There are over 600,000 births every year in England and ensuring new mums and their babies have the best start is a key commitment of the NHS long-term plan. This addition to the contract will allow time and space for new mums to discuss their physical and mental health needs and is extremely welcome.”
The parenting charity NCT has been lobbying ministers and NHS bosses for years to introduce postnatal checks after its research found that almost half of new mothers’ mental health problems were not being identified by health professionals.
“It’s fantastic news that NHS England has responded to our calls for better postnatal mental health checks. This is a huge step forward and means more new mothers will be supported to talk about their mental health problems and get the help they need,” said Angela McConville, NCT’s chief executive.
NCT’s Hidden Half campaign for dedicated health checks for mothers had also drawn support from medical royal colleges representing GPs, obstetricians and gynaecologists and psychiatrists, and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.