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Mental Health Care (Pregnant Women)

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

1. What steps he is taking to improve mental health care for pregnant women and new mothers in (a) Peterborough and (b) England; and if he will make a statement. (906953)

The Government have prioritised improving mental health care and support for pregnant women and new mothers in its mandate to NHS England, with a clear objective to reduce the incidence and impact of post-natal depression. In order to implement the Government’s priority to improve perinatal mental health services, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust is working closely with local authority commissioners in Peterborough to develop a joint perinatal mental health strategy to improve care for women.

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance has estimated that the long-term cost of mental health care for new mothers is £8 billion, which is perhaps not unconnected to the fact that only 3% of clinical commissioning groups have a perinatal mental health strategy. Does the Minister think that this is a very serious issue and needs immediate action?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the challenges posed by perinatal mental illness. The damage it does to women’s lives, and indeed to the wider family, was highlighted in the recent independent inquiry into maternal deaths. It is therefore important for the Government to invest, as we are doing, in improved care for the perinatal mental health of women. That is why we have made it a priority for each and every maternity unit to have staff specially trained in perinatal mental health skills by 2017.

The Minister will know that I have been part of an all-party group campaigning on post-natal depression, which is the most likely thing to kill a healthy young woman. Is he aware that this area of mental health is under-resourced, and that mental health facilities for children and young people are desperately under-resourced? That is partly because clinical commissioning groups have been commissioning in the wrong way, which has disturbed existing arrangements and demoralised staff.

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that there has been an historical disparity between the priorities given to mental health and physical health conditions. That is why we have legislated for parity of esteem between mental and physical health, why we are introducing access targets for patients using mental health services for the first time—that is a big step forward—and why we have increased funding for mental health services by £300 million this year.

In the first few weeks of a child’s life, the mother often visits their general practitioner regularly, so I applaud the Government’s work on recruiting more health visitors and midwives. Does the Minister agree that GPs need to be sharper at identifying post-natal depression in mothers, because it can be so destructive to the lives of both the mother and the child?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. A lot of work is going on with the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists to improve GP training and skills in mental health more generally. The specific key to this is providing the right early years work force, which is why it is so important that this Government have invested in additional health visitors to give each and every child the best start in life. The latest figures from NHS England show that the number of health visitors has increased by more than 3,000 under this Government.

What steps is the Minister taking to make sure that awareness of domestic violence is incorporated in guidance for mental health care? We know that pregnancy can sometimes be the first time there is violence in the home, and we obviously need a strategy to address that.

The hon. Lady makes very important points. I have certainly seen in my clinical practice that some women present when there are domestic violence issues or other issues in the home, and such issues can be heightened and exacerbated during pregnancy. A lot of work is now going on to improve the awareness of all NHS staff of domestic violence and, more broadly across training, of mental health issues.

For many people with mental health problems, the first emergency service with which they come into contact at a point of crisis is the police. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that such a crisis is treated as a health crisis, not a criminal incident, and will the Minister undertake to do whatever he can to ensure that no children end up in a police cell as a place of safety?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is absolutely right that we do not want people with mental health problems to be looked after in police cells. A lot of work has been going on. The Government have set up the crisis care concordat to look at exactly that issue, and as a result the number of people with mental illness going to police cells is now falling rapidly.