Healthwatch England finds six-week postnatal checks failing many new mothers

March 24, 2023

Healthwatch England survey of 2,693 new mothers and birthing parents has revealed shortcomings in maternity services, particularly around postnatal care.

The organisation warns that six-week postnatal checks – required of GPs in England – are failing many new mothers. Its analysis of experiences of pregnancy and post-natal care suggest not all GP practices are complying with the requirement to provide six to eight-week postnatal checks.

And where those checks take place, it is unclear if GP practices are aware of NICE guidance which tells them in detail how to spot mental health problems and provide help. Healthwatch England also found:

  • That over one in 10 (16%) of new mothers and birthing parents who shared their experiences said they hadn’t received the six to eight-week check.
  • Of those who said they had been offered the postnatal check, only one in five, 22%, were satisfied with the time their GP spent talking to them about their mental health.
  • Nearly half, 44%, of respondents felt that the GP did not spend enough time talking to them about their mental health, while a third, 30%, said that their GP didn’t mention this during the check.
  • One in seven, 15%, said they had had their six-week check over the phone, with many new parents finding it hard to verbalise their mental health struggles and discuss physical issues. In the worst cases, respondents felt the way their mental health issues were discussed was inappropriate and potentially harmful.

In April 2020, the Government introduced the six to eight-week postnatal check after Healthwatch England shared the experiences of almost 1,800 women on mental health during their journey to parenthood.

General practitioners in England have since been contractually obliged and paid to assess new mothers’ mental health and wellbeing, providing an opportunity for referral to specialist services and additional support. Crucially, the checks must take place separately from a postnatal check focused on the health of the baby.

The latest research, taking place between October and December of 2022, aimed to measure the extent to which mental health support has improved during and after pregnancy. It found:

  • Two-thirds, 1800, of the women and birthing parents who shared their experiences had struggled with their mental health during and after pregnancy.
  • Nearly half of those, 41%, received no support to help with their mental health during and post-pregnancy.
  • Delays in accessing mental health support can have a devastating impact on new parents, with some reporting they had struggled to leave the house, bond with their child and maintain relationships.
  • First-time mothers are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems and are less likely to access timely care.

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