27 May 2013

Help for North Island mothers with post-natal depression

9:03 pm on 27 May 2013

Long-awaited help is to be provided for new mothers in the North Island who have post-natal depression and other illnesses.

For the first time in decades they will be able to take their baby into hospital with them.

Such services exist in the South Island, but North Island mothers needing hospital care have had to leave their babies with others.

The Government has provided $18.2 million over four years in this year's Budget for the new initiative.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said on Monday it would provide in-patient beds for new mothers with their babies - probably at Auckland Hospital - and more specialist community services elsewhere in the North Island for 650 mothers and their babies a year.

Mr Ryall said at least 15% of new mothers develop depression, anxiety or a more severe mental illness.

Suicide is also the leading cause of death for pregnant women and new mothers, with 13 such deaths between 2006 and 2010.

Professor Cindy Farquhar, the head of the perinatal and maternal mortality review committee said requiring new mothers who need acute care to leave their baby has been hard on them and others. She said community services would also improve.

Northern region district health boards say cost has prevented them providing better services for new mothers with post-natal depression.

David Hughes, clinical leader of mental health and addiction services for Auckland and Northland said there has been a gap in services at the high and acute end.

"Money was always one of the very difficult things that kept us from providing those services, so this money will go a long way to dealing with some of the fundamental problems."

Dr Hughes said there is work to do before Northern DHBs can say how many in-patient beds will be available for mothers and babies, but it's an exciting time.

The co-ordinator of Auckland's Maternity Services Consumer Council said new services are urgently needed. However, Lynda Williams believes the proposed four in-patient beds won't be enough.

"We need a much bigger facility than that, and we need to put some other services around it in terms of providing lower level of support to all the other women who experience depression and stress after the birth of their new baby."

Auckland psychiatrist Cathy Hapgood said the current arrangement, where some new mothers needing care have had to leave their baby at home, has been awful.

"After you've had a baby the last thing you want to happen is that you're unwell. But if you do need to be admitted, to then be separated from the baby I think it sounds like a punishment."