How Failures In Maternal Mental Healthcare Put Women At Risk


The Law Of… Providing Effective Care

A report published earlier this year by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG), has brought the issue of maternal mental health back to the fore. Victoria Clark, a Medical Negligence Solicitor with Simpson Millar, investigates the standard of care women receive during and following pregnancy.

Maternal Mental Health Shortcomings

The RCOG report, Maternal Mental Health – Women's Voices, was compiled from a survey of over 2,300 women, all of who had given birth in the past 5 years. Notably, over 80% of those who responded admitted to having experienced at least one mental health episode either while pregnant or following the birth.

Of the majority who reported suffering a mental health issue, only 7% were referred for specialist care. Over a third of those who got a referral had to wait more than 4 weeks to be seen, with some even waiting up to 12 months.

In particular, the report identified that the postcode lottery plays a huge role in how the women accessed mental health care, with a significant variation depending on whereabouts in the country they lived. The discrepancy was evident in both referral rates and the type of care that was received.

Repeated Requests For Help

Further insights revealed that women had received inconsistent and conflicting advice on medication, along with care that was rushed. Some had to make repeated requests for help, illustrating a lack of awareness among healthcare professionals towards maternal mental health problems and the treatment that is available.

Continuity of care was another issue that the RCOG report highlighted, as well as complaints regarding the absence of bereavement counselling following miscarriage or stillbirth.

Is Mental Health A Leading Cause Of Maternal Death?

Women who suffer mental health problems during or following pregnancy are some of the most vulnerable in society. The Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), Dr Alain Gregoire, who helped prepare the report, has said:

"We know that suicide is the leading cause of maternal death and that this represents the tip of an iceberg of suffering that has been ignored for too long."

"In this survey, women have spoken out. Despite the pain, trauma and stigma these women have faced as a result of mental health problems, they have conveyed a clear and unequivocal message that services in the UK must improve."

Is Maternal Mental Healthcare Failing The NHS Charter?

Victoria comments:

"Health trusts should have policies in place that deal with how to care for those suffering maternal mental health problems."

"Under the NHS Charter, those who receive a referral to a consultant-led mental health service should not have to wait more than 18 weeks to be seen – in more severe cases, the waiting period is shorter. The lack of success in meeting this target needs addressing."

"A failure to identify and properly treat maternal health problems can impact hugely on recovery and, in the worst cases, lead to tragedy."

If you have suffered maternal mental health problems and believe you have not received an appropriate level of care, resulting in injury or loss, you may be entitled to compensation. Speak to one of our Medical Negligence team today.

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