Willie Rennie slams government over perinatal mental health

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has accused the First Minister of 'failing mothers and their children' after a new report revealed significant gaps in perinatal mental health ­provision.

Willie Rennie. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Willie Rennie. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He was reacting to data from 2017 analysed by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) that shows in seven out of 14 health board areas across the country, women had no access to specialist mental health services for pregnant women and new mothers.

Across Scotland, only NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had services that met national guidelines drawn up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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Challenged on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon said the national Managed Clinical Network (MCN) on perinatal mental health would ­enable the Scottish Government to address specific concerns around provision.

However, Mr Rennie said that the MCN was “far from enough”.

“The government aren’t doing enough and they aren’t doing enough quickly,” he said. “I ask the First Minister about mental health almost every single week in this Parliament and this week is yet another week when we hear of a new report on failures of this government’s mental health policy. Isn’t it the case that mental health is fast becoming this government’s record of shame?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “This is an extremely important issue, and it’s why we have taken the step of funding a national managed clinical network on perinatal mental health.

“The network is currently delivering on a work plan that’s in place which includes assessing current provision across all levels of service delivery in Scotland, and the report … of course should be taken into account in that.

“The network is also looking at how it ensure that all women, their children and families have equity of access to the perinatal mental health ­services that they need.”

MMHA warned women were facing a postcode lottery in accessing lifesaving care, highlighting more than one in ten develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after ­having a baby.

The organisation has called for more funding, pointing out that no prioritised money for specialist perinatal community services had been made available by the government to date.

MMHA chairman Dr Alain Gregoire said: “Over ten years ago national guidelines said that specialist perinatal mental health services should be available for all women who need them. This still hasn’t happened.

“We want to celebrate the new perinatal services that have been set up, but these maps show that there is still an urgent need for change on the ground.

“For women and families to be able to access specialist services, we need to see funding across all four nations of the UK.”

Emma Currer, from the ­Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Scotland, said: “Ensuring Scotland has the perinatal mental health services it needs is hugely important.

“If women do not get the ­support needed the consequences can be incredibly ­serious, indeed, fatal.

“As the map for Scotland shows, the Scottish Government and NHS still have much to do to improve the situation around perinatal mental health because there are clearly significant gaps in services.”