Mums and babies at heart of new Perinatal Service

25th October 2022
Perinatal mental health team with Health Minister Robin Swann

The Health Minister Robin Swann visited the Ulster Hospital to see for himself the great service which is being provided by the Community Perinatal Mental Health Team, where mums and their babies are at the heart of everything it does.

The Community Perinatal Mental Health Service is designed to increase awareness of mental illness and offer support and interventions to women through their pregnancy and up until one year after birth, thereby improving the health and wellbeing of women, their children and their wider families.

The Perinatal Service, which was officially launched in May 2022, is delivered by a multidisciplinary team comprising of Consultant Psychiatrists, an Obstetrician, Mental Health Nurses, a Midwife, a Health Visitor, a Social Worker, an Occupational Therapist and Clinical Psychologists.

Speaking after the visit, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I was pleased to visit the team today and see first hand the vital service that they are providing for women and their families across the Trust area. When I became Health Minister I made a clear commitment to improve perinatal mental health services and reaffirmed this when launching the Northern Ireland’s new 10-year Mental Health Strategy June 2021.

“The introduction of the community teams is an important step forward for perinatal mental health services in Northern Ireland but we know there is more to do. To this end, my Department has begun preliminary scoping and analysis work for the establishment of a Mother and Baby Unit for the region.”

Minister Swann concluded: “I want to place on record my thanks to all staff who have been involved in the implementation of the new perinatal model and those staff working within the trust teams. Without doubt the past few years have been challenging for all our health and social care staff but it’s clear that teams have continued to strive to provide the best service for mothers and their infants across our region, which I believe will result in better outcomes for all.”

One service user said, “I cannot thank the Perinatal Team enough for their support, attention to detail and simply excellent patient care. They ensured I had a pregnancy and a birth plan suited to me and my diagnosis of Bipolar. Becoming a mum with a mental health condition is a scary and challenging time. I simply cannot express how much of a positive difference the team made to me. There is a great need for such a service here in Northern Ireland.”

The practitioners in the team also work closely with their colleagues in the other developing Perinatal Mental Health Teams regionally, creating peer support structures to facilitate shared learning. The team has also established strong working relationships with other services and agencies, including Home Treatment Teams and Community Mental Health Teams.

The team, which is based at the Ulster Hospital, works across the Trust’s community, accepting referrals from GPs, Midwives, Health Visitors and Mental Health Teams.

At the start, the service was restricted to those women with more serious mental illness but as more members of the team were recruited, the service extended its reach to address the needs of women who meet the full referral criteria. The recruitment process is now complete.

The team is currently assessing and treating women with a wide range of perinatal mental health needs, including Bipolar Affective Disorder, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, moderate to severe Depression, Anxiety Disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.

The specialist service for women now receives around 20-25 referrals a month and the team is currently treating 40 patients.

Consultant Psychiatrist, Carolyn O’Connor stressed, “Mums and babies are at the heart of everything we do. Our aim is to provide specialised perinatal mental health care close to home, improving outcomes for mums, babies and families.”

The Director of Adult Services in the South Eastern Trust, Margaret O’Kane said, “The investment in the Community Perinatal Mental Health Service means that women and their families are now receiving comprehensive person-centred care and treatment, delivered by a highly skilled specialist team.”