New mothers with serious mental health problems will be able to receive specialist inpatient help closer to home when Norfolk and Suffolk NHS FT opens the region’s first dedicated mother and baby mental health unit.
The eight-bed unit - which will ensure mums and their newborns can stay together while the mother is receiving acute psychiatric care - will be based at Hellesdon Hospital, in Norwich. Due to open in 2018, it will take referrals from across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, as well as other parts of the country.
The unit will cost around £3m to develop and is one of just three in the country commissioned by NHS England as part of their investment into improving access to specialist treatment for new mothers in regional areas with the most limited inpatient services.
NSFT’s unit will care for mothers with mental health illnesses such as postnatal depression, severe anxiety, as well as postpartum psychosis - a serious mental health condition which can occur in recently delivered mothers which causes hallucinations and delusions and can severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotions and behaviour.
GPs and health visitors, as well as mental health staff, will make the referrals to the unit, which will be staffed by a perinatal psychiatrist, specialist mental health nurses, nursery nurses, occupational therapist and social worker.
A range of therapeutic services will be available including medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy, along with help with attachment. Trained peer support workers – people who have personal experience of perinatal mental ill health – will also offer support and practical help.
The new unit will complement NSFT’s new Community Perinatal Mental Health Service, which launched in April and cares for pregnant women and new mothers with serious mental health difficulties, as well as providing support for the rest of the family.
Andy Goff, NSFT’s Children, Families and Young People’s services Locality Manager, explained that the bid for funding for the locally based unit was submitted by NSFT and supported by the NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups in Norfolk and Waveney.
“We also worked closely with the Norfolk and Norwich Universities Hospitals NHS Trust (NNUH) who run local midwifery services, and the support group Get Me Out These Four Walls, to develop our model which will ensure both mothers and babies receive responsive and effective care in a family-friendly unit which has been designed to meet the highest standards,” he said.
“And the staff there will carry out daily assessments to make sure the emotional and physical needs of mothers and their babies are safely met.”
NSFT’s Chief Executive Michael Scott said: “We are absolutely delighted that our bid to create a specialist mother and baby unit for our region has been successful. This is a vital and potentially life-changing service that for the first time we will be able to offer local families from across the region.
“We are extremely proud that NHSE has such confidence in our model of care and that we can now continue to work with local service users and staff to add the finishing touches to the development of the new service.”
The news of the new unit has been welcomed by Jessica Bannister from Norwich. She received mental health crisis treatment with NSFT when she suffered postpartum psychosis following the birth of her son, Albert, three years ago, but then had to travel to Hackney, in London, for specialist inpatient treatment as soon as it was safe to move them.
“The immediate care that I received from NSFT when I went into crisis was literally life-saving, offering an urgent short-term safe haven, and for that I will always be grateful. But there were no local facilities to treat my condition in a specialised environment,” said author and playwright, Jessica.
“The Hackney unit was a godsend for us – even with the distance involved, but if someone becomes ill, it’s much better if they don’t have to travel hundreds of miles for treatment as it’s essential that you’re near your family and friends so you can keep some kind of life going outside of the illness.
“These units are incredible places – the humanity, love and support you receive is phenomenal. The dedication of the staff to your recovery and wellness, along with the love they give to your child, is fantastic.”
Jessica returned home when Albert was around four months old, and continued to receive support from NSFT’s community mental health team. Now fully recovered, the family recently welcomed their new arrival, daughter Roxie, to the family on 25 January.
Keen to help raise awareness of mental ill health among other new mums and mums-to-be, Jessica has written a drama documentary for BBC Radio 4 called Mama Courage, due to be aired on Friday 12 May at 2.15pm, then available on the BBC Radio 4 iPlayer.
If you are concerned you or someone close to you is showing the signs of mental ill health either during pregnancy or after a birth contact your midwife, health visitor or GP immediately for further support and advice. Or if you have a pre-existing mental health condition you can also speak to your mental health adviser.
You can also get support from NSFT’s Wellbeing services at www.wellbeingnands.co.uk