Government pledges more support for women with postnatal depression
The terribly sad case of Felicia Boots, the mother accused of killing her two babies - 10-week-old Mason and his 14-month-old sister Lily - at their family home in Wandsworth, south London, last week, hasn't failed to haunt everyone who's heard about it.
It was the topic of conversation amongst my friends when we met for coffee last Friday, too. And the general consensus was this: "The poor woman. That poor family. If only she had got the help she needed."
Mrs Boots, 34, is believed to be suffering from postnatal depression and the latest news was that she was due to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act.
One friend, who had a baby several months ago said something particularly poignant, though she tried to make light of it: "I'm on a waiting list for counselling," she laughed. "Let's hope I get to the top of the list before I feel desperate!"
My friend – let's call her Emma – has been offered antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs by her GP when she told him about her feelings of nervousness and irritability since the birth – but she preferred to go down the 'natural' route and opt for 'talking therapy' instead; but it's not that easy to come by.
Add to that the fact that she hasn't seen the same midwife more than two or three times during her pregnancy and after-care and it's easy to see how she's not been given the consistent care and help she perhaps needs.
She is, of course, just one amongst thousands of women battling with the problems a new baby brings.
A new NSPCC survey has revealed that two in five new mothers have struggled to cope with the demands of a newborn and 72% want more professional advice and support. The survey also found more than half of new mothers felt isolated with no one to turn to.
So, it's welcoming news to hear that today Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged more support from the NHS for women with postnatal depression or those who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a baby.
The announcements come just two days after he was booed, heckled and laughed at by members of the Royal College of Nursing delegates at their annual conference in Harrogate when he said that clinical staffing levels in the NHS had increased during his time in office, so it's tempting to think that these pledges smack a little of damage limitation and political posturing.
Still, the strategies announced sound promising, so let's just brush our cynicism aside for a moment and take a look at the changes set to take place.
Amongst the plans, Lansley has pledged to ensure that the investment in a record 5,000 midwives currently in training will mean that women will have one named midwife who will oversee their care during pregnancy and after having their baby, and that every woman will have one-to-one midwife care during labour and birth.
An extra 4,200 health visitors being recruited by the Government will get enhanced training so they can spot the early signs of postnatal depression, and they'll be supported to work together with midwives to focus on the 'emotional wellbeing' of new parents.
Where extra help is needed they will be able to refer women to counselling, backed by a £400 million investment in psychological and talking therapies.
And it looks like the Government really wants to listen to what families need because, for the first time, the NHS will be measured against how well it looks after parents who have miscarried or suffered a stillbirth or cot death. Patients will be asked to rate their care so the NHS can improve it.
Moves will also be made to ensure women have more choices about where and how they give birth, too.
Andrew Lansley said: "No woman should have to cope with postnatal depression without help and support. The changes we are putting in place today will mean that the NHS is providing even more support to women who have this serious condition.
"We have listened to the concerns of women about their experiences of maternity care, which is why we are putting in place a "named midwife" policy to ensure consistency of care."
Commenting on the news, Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, said: "4Children welcomes this new support for mothers suffering with postnatal depression. Our 2011 report 'Suffering in Silence' highlighted the stories of tens of thousands of mothers with depression who felt desperate, overlooked and fearful with terrible and long lasting consequences for them, their children and families.
"The policies announced today respond to these concerns making post natal depression a priority for health professionals and ensuring that counselling and talking therapies are available to support. This is a good example of Government listening to the needs of families and many families are set to benefit as a result."
Let's hope all the plans aren't just political waffle and that real results are seen soon.
Any woman who believes she may be suffering from postnatal depression or after a stillbirth or miscarriage should contact their midwife, health visitor or GP.
Have you had postnatal depression? What was your experience of seeking out and receiving NHS care?