Health watchdog recommends special unit for women suffering pre and postnatal depression
A specialist mother and baby facility should be opened for Northern Ireland mums struggling with their mental health, a watchdog has said.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has set out 11 recommendations in a report to overhaul services for women who fall ill while pregnant or after giving birth.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not provide specialist perinatal mental health inpatient facilities.
This means women who suffer with severe mental ill health after giving birth must leave their babies in the care of someone else while they get hospital treatment.
On some occasions this meant their baby was placed in foster care. Meanwhile, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is the only trust here that provides any type of specialist perinatal mental health service.
RQIA has carried out a review of services and identified a series of shocking failings.
These include some women waiting six months for treatment, an over-reliance on antidepressants by GPs, and mums and dads having to turn to the internet to get advice and support because of a lack of help from health professionals.
Lindsay Robinson (34), from east Belfast, who suffered with postnatal depression after the birth of three-year-old son Reuben, has welcomed the recommendations contained in the RQIA report.
"I think the first two years of Reuben's life would have been vastly different had I got the support I needed," she said.
"I did have antenatal depression, which wasn't diagnosed, but if it had been picked up postnatally in the first couple of months then the bonding and our experience of those first few years of his life would have been totally different.
"Now we have these recommendations I am really hopeful that no other mum or dad has to go through what we went through."
As a result of her own experience, Lindsay has become a vocal campaigner for improved services for women in Northern Ireland.
And she said she was hopeful that the new Health Minister at Stormont will listen to and implement the RQIA recommendations.
During its review of perinatal mental health services, the RQIA spoke to women across Northern Ireland to find out about their care experiences.
They told the RQIA that there was a perceived lack of knowledge and compassion from GPs, and that there was a postcode lottery when it came to community services.
Some women told the RQIA that their partners ended up having to seek help for mental health issues after the stress of caring for them without proper support.
Tom McEneaney from mental health charity Aware welcomed the RQIA report and recommendations.
"I think it is particularly important because the RQIA spent a lot of time listening to service users and really seems to have taken their comments on board," he said.
"The important thing now is that we work to make sure these recommendations are implemented."