Released on: 22 April 2021
New mothers are still not being asked about their mental health despite GP practices in England now being funded to do so, according to new research¹ by NCT.
NCT, the UK’s leading charity for parents, found that of the new mothers surveyed:
• A quarter (25%) are not being asked about their emotional or mental health at their six-week routine GP check-up. This is the same proportion of women as two years ago (24%) and a huge number: around 150,000 in the last year.
• The focus of these appointments is increasingly on the baby. (85% said the appointment was focused mainly or equally on the baby’s health - up from 45%² in 2019).
• Contrary to the terms of the new GP contract a year ago³, only 15% of the mothers had an appointment that was focused on their own health and wellbeing.
• Through the pandemic the same proportion of women are getting a six-week GP appointment. 88% saw the GP in person or spoke over the phone or online in 2021, 88% in 2019.
• A quarter (25%) still don’t feel comfortable to talk openly at these appointments about a physical or mental health problem. This is a similar proportion to 2019 (29%).
Angela McConville, Chief Executive, NCT, said: “We were delighted last year when the GP contract was changed so that mothers get a dedicated six week postnatal check to discuss their health, after we’d campaigned for this to happen with the support of so many women with lived experience. So it is extremely disappointing to find that only 15% of new mothers are getting an appointment focused on their wellbeing and a quarter of mums are not being asked about their mental health at all.
“We realise GPs and other services have been working under immense pressure recently but the pandemic has had a huge impact on the wellbeing of many new mothers. This makes it even more important that mums’ postnatal health checks are prioritised. We urgently call on GPs to provide dedicated time and space for this crucial appointment.”
Kate Silverton, a new mum from Poole in Dorset, said: “I did get a check-up with my GP after about eight weeks but I wasn’t asked at all about my mental health. In fact, the only question I was asked about myself was: ‘You’re alright, aren’t you?’ which wasn’t very helpful. I did want to discuss mental health but didn’t feel able to do so in the circumstances. It felt like they were trying to shove me out of the door as quickly as possible.”
Dr Alain Gregoire, Hon President, Maternal Mental Health Alliance UK, said: “We are very concerned to hear that so many new mothers are not being asked about their mental health, especially in light of research commissioned by the MMHA from Centre for Mental Health showing the increased risk to maternal mental wellbeing at this time.
“We join NCT in both recognising the immense challenges faced by healthcare workers over the past year, and calling for all those working with women and families to ensure every opportunity is taken to detect potential mental health problems. Only then can we ensure mums and families get the help they so urgently need."
¹ 893 mothers in England who had a child in the previous 12 months were interviewed online by Survation in March 2021. They were asked similar questions to those in a survey carried out by Survation in June 2019 when 1025 women with children aged up to 2 years-old were interviewed.
² In 2019, 45% of women respondents either had no postnatal check, a postnatal check focused entirely on the baby, or a postnatal check with less than three minutes focused on the mother.
³ On April 1, 2020, the GP contract in England was amended to ensure the six-week maternal check was funded. This was so that GPs have the time to give new mothers their own appointment and offer adequate time for disclosure and discussion of their concerns.
This amendment followed NCT’s #HiddenHalf mental health campaign. #HiddenHalf gets its name from previous NCT research, which found that half of new mums in the UK (50%) said they experience emotional or mental health problems during pregnancy or within a year of their child’s birth. In 2017, 1012 women with children aged up to 2 years-old took part in a nationally representative online panel survey in March 2017.