Health Minister Robin Swann today visited a newly established Community Perinatal Mental Health team in the South Eastern Health Social Care Trust.
The Health Minister took a decision in 2021 to invest £4.7m to develop a regional perinatal mental health community service model with teams in each trust. The South Eastern Trust service is now fully operational and provides much needed mental health support for mothers and their infants during the perinatal period.
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.
Speaking after the visit, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I was pleased to visit the team today and see firsthand 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.”
The Perinatal service is delivered in the South Eastern Trust 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.
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 has extended its reach to address the needs of women who meet the full referral criteria.
Perinatal Consultant Psychiatrist at the South Eastern Trust, Carolyn O’Connor said: “This has been a long awaited and much needed service. To be able to finally offer a specialist Perinatal Service throughout the South Eastern Trust has been the most exciting and rewarding time. Our highly skilled multidisciplinary perinatal team offer timely, accessible, holistic assessment and treatment to women presenting with mental illness in the perinatal period.
“The primary aim of the team is to improve the health and well-being of women, their babies and their wider families through increased awareness of mental illness during pregnancy and after childbirth, earlier identification of women who have, or are at risk of mental illness and provide effective and evidence based interventions tailored to the woman’s needs.
“We have already seen the very clear need and demand for this specialist service and the positive impact this has had in terms of improving outcomes not only for our mums but also for their babies, partners and the entire family unit.”
The Director of Adult Services in the South Eastern Health Social Care 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.”
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