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Millions of women denied mental health care.

Millions of women throughout the UK are being denied vital NHS care to help them cope with mental health problems triggered by pregnancy and childbirth, doctors say.

The patchy provision of services means that pregnant women and new mothers in a quarter of Britain cannot access any specialist support to tackle conditions such as post partum psychosis that can have a devastating effect on their lives.

The lack of services is so severe that women could end up taking their own lives because they do not receive help, according to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) of medical groups and childbirth campaigners.

MMHA chair, Dr Alain Gregoire, says: “The lack of provision of perinatal mental health services in some parts of the UK is scandalous.”

The NHS estimates that up to a fifth of the 775,000 women a year who give birth suffer mental health problems related to pregnancy or giving birth, including anxiety disorders, depression and psychotic illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Dr Gregoire said: “These services help women who have been left severely disabled, who maybe cannot get out of bed or function normally, or who have been left suicidal, or at extremely high risk of taking their lives, as a result of mental health problems associated with pregnancy and the postnatal period.

“Suicide remains a leading cause of death among women who are pregnant or who gave birth in the last year. These services are vital; they save lives.”

New research by the MMHA and Royal College of Psychiatrists found that, despite progress in many parts of England and Wales, there are still no services to help women suffering mental health problems relating to pregnancy and childbirth in 26 per cent of UK NHS areas.

According to their findings, 62 of the 235 NHS health board or clinical commissioning group areas across the UK – 26.3 per cent – offer women no help from dedicated perinatal personnel, including specialist psychiatrists and nurses.

That is far fewer than the 97 areas that offered no support in 2015, when the MMHA last carried out a similar survey.  However, the number of areas providing access to a full range of help has also risen from 55 to 109 during that time.

NHS England’s national mental health director, Claire Murdoch, said: “As recently as 2014, only three per cent of the country had good access to perinatal mental health care, and as the MMHA acknowledges, services have since expanded significantly as part of a £365m investment which helped an additional 6,000 women access care in the past year alone.”