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Mothers should have access to specialist health visitors in perinatal mental health

Recommendations that all mothers and their partners get access to a specialist health visitors in perinatal and infant mental health have been welcomed by an association representing 9,000 health visitors.

Health Education England has issued the advice in new guidance for commissioning and planning workforce development on specialist health visitors in perinatal and infant mental health, Health Education England's guide Specialist Health Visitors in Perinatal and Infant Mental Health - what they do and why they matter.

It wants to see specialists in every health visiting service.

According to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) more than one-in-ten mothers will have mental health problems before or within the first year of their baby's birth, with an estimated 70,000 families affected each year.

Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Health Education England's director of nursing and deputy director of education and quality said: “Implementing the framework's recommendations will significantly increase the number of specialists, develop local leadership in infant and perinatal mental health and will also build capacity in the wider health visitor workforce. This will in turn strengthen prevention and the promotion of good mental health.”

The Institute of Health Visiting  (iHV) welcomed the new guidance for commissioning and said the specialist posts “will play a valuable part in reducing the incidence and impact of postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health problems.”

Families will be offered help through earlier diagnosis, better intervention and support, which should also see savings for mental health services and improve public help, it said.

The guidance contains a strategic framework for increasing and recruiting specialists and includes a sample job description.

The institute's executive director Dr Cheryll Adams said: “Health visitors are well-placed to identify those families requiring additional support, especially where the mother (or indeed father) may be suffering from perinatal mental illness, or where the bond between parent and baby may be compromised.

“However, health visitors have many other roles and responsibilities taking their time during this important period of every child's life and they would benefit from specialist support in this challenging arena.”