In-depth check-ups promised for new mothers

All new mothers in England are to receive an in-depth mental and physical check-up from their GP in the weeks after they give birth, NHS officials have promised.

The postnatal check-up, which takes place between six and eight weeks after giving birth, will cover several topics such as mental health, physical recovery and breastfeeding, and will also support with family planning.

The new NHS guidance, written with the Royal College of GPs, aims to boost postnatal care and encourage women to attend their check-up.

Dr Claire Fuller, NHS medical director for primary care and the NHS’ lead GP in England said: “More than 600,000 women give birth every year in England, and so it is vital that they can get the right NHS mental health and physical support at what can be a hugely pressured moment in their lives.

“GPs are perfectly placed to offer new mums a welfare checks 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth – for not only their physical health but also their mental wellbeing and this new NHS guidance published today ensures that family doctors have the resources to provide this comprehensive support.”

The routine check-up is an opportunity for GPs to assess and support women not just in their physical recovery post-birth but also their mental health, making sure any woman needing extra mental health support can be referred, if appropriate, to a specialist straight away.

In the past year, over 53,000 new mothers received specialist perinatal mental health support, while dozens of new maternal mental health services have been set up by the NHS across the country, according to NHS England. Every local system now has access to a specialist community perinatal mental health team who can offer specialised care for a range of issues.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Mothers should be supported after giving birth. This includes being able to get the mental and physical health support needed for a healthy recovery – while giving new-borns the best start in life.

“The postnatal check provides an important opportunity for GPs to listen to women in a discrete, supportive environment.

“This builds on part of a wider scheme of support – including making new maternal mental health services available across all areas of England by March 2024 and £25 million to expand women’s health hubs.”

Women’s health ambassador Dame Lesley Regan said the new guidance will empower women to make informed decisions about their own health and that of their babies.

“Supporting GPs to advise on contraception after giving birth makes it more convenient and easier for women to make safe, effective choices about the many benefits of spacing their future pregnancies,” she added.

“A major focus of our Women’s health strategy is to make the healthcare system work better for women. Having access to a comprehensive post-natal check by a GP will mean women can get on with their day to day lives swiftly. I think this guidance is a great step in the right direction.”

The Royal College of GPs backed the guidance – but warned of time pressures in general practice.

Chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said: “Today’s guidance from NHS England recognises the importance and complexity of the six to eight week postnatal consultation, highlighting the opportunity to identify and offer evidence-based treatment for issues such as postnatal mental health problems and pelvic health complications of pregnancy and birth.

“We hope it will be useful for GPs and our teams as we strive to deliver the best possible care for new mothers.

“What we continue to need in general practice is the time to spend with patients who need it, and as this guidance makes clear, many postnatal conditions may need longer appointments and multiple follow up consultations.”

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