Parental mental health service struggling with ‘staffing challenges’

Camden Town Hall.

A service providing mental health support to new and expectant mothers is experiencing “staffing challenges”, with councillors requesting updates on its progress.

The Perinatal Mental Health service (PMHS) was set up to provide care for women with severe or complex mental illnesses across North Central London (NCL), which comprises Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington.

However, the service is currently falling short of giving provision to NHS England’s target of 4.5 per cent of women giving birth in the area, with 51 women in Camden accessing the service between April and September of last year, shy of the baseline goal of 60.

A report on the service reads: “The current access rate shortfall is largely attributable to staffing challenges within the service. There have been significant challenges recruiting to consultant posts, though this has now been resolved.

“More importantly there are gaps within the staffing establishment compared with Royal College of Psychiatry guidelines. One-off non-recurrent funding of £400,000 from NHS this year allows us to increase capacity of the service by 13 whole time equivalent staff (WTE).

“Because this funding needs to spent in-year the staff were brought in as temps, locums or secondments in the first instance to provide rapid mobilisation and support the increase in referrals and access.”

It is understood that Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and council officers anticipate the assessment rate to improve as a result of the new funding.

Around 1,000 women a year in NCL are likely to have a complex or
severe mental health condition for example psychosis, chronic serious mental illness, severe depressive illness or post-traumatic stress disorder.

One in five mothers suffer from depression, anxiety or in some cases psychosis during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth, with suicide the second leading cause of maternal death, after cardiovascular disease.

The report adds: “The new perinatal service is still in its infancy and continues to develop as it attracts more resources to expand its reach. The impact of the service is yet to be fully understood in terms of system impact and resident outcomes.”

Mental health problems not only affect mothers but can also have longstanding impacts on children’s emotional, social and cognitive development.

Costs of perinatal mental ill health are estimated nationally at £8.1 billion for each annual birth cohort, or almost £10,000 per birth.

In a joint report, Sally MacKinnon, Director of Transformation, Planning & Delivery for Camden CCG and Pete Dudley, Director of Education & Integrated Commissioning for Camden, said: “The service responds to the Camden 2025 call to action that everyone should be able to live a healthy, independent life, in particular that no one should experience discrimination or be made to feel ashamed or isolated because of a mental health problem.

“Despite this, early development of the service has not been without its challenges, including on performance, recruitment and estates.

“Performance against NHS England targets for Camden as well as other NCL boroughs needs improving and plans are in place to address the shortfall.”