Six-week check for new mothers must be funded, says RCGP

By Agencies
September 10, 2019

Nearly half (47 per cent) of mothers who have recently given birth get less than three minutes, or no time at all, to discuss their mental and physical health at a postnatal check, according to new research by National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and Netmums.

The recommended six-week postnatal check-up with a health professional is meant to uncover mums’ and babies’ health difficulties, but research found:

  • Nearly a third (31 per cent) of new mothers got less than three minutes to discuss their own health at the appointment, as most of the time was devoted to the baby.
  • Additionally, around a sixth (16 per cent) of mothers were given no time at all to discuss their own health, with the whole appointment focused on their baby.
  • A quarter (25 per cent) of mothers were not asked about their emotional or mental health during the appointment.

These new statistics are released as part of NCT’s #HiddenHalf campaign, which calls for full funding of the six-week check so that health professionals have the time to give all new mothers their own appointment, rather than squeezing it in with an examination of their baby. Without funding, many GP surgeries are unable to provide specific maternal appointments. 

Sarah McMullen, Head of Knowledge, NCT, said: “Many new mums don’t find it easy to admit they are struggling so it’s impossible to make them feel comfortable enough to discuss their concerns in less than three minutes.

“It’s vital mothers are given adequate opportunity to discuss any health problems to prevent them from getting worse. If they aren’t given the support they need at this crucial time it can have a devastating impact on the whole family.”

Anne-Marie O'Leary, Netmums Editor in Chief, said: "We are doing the nation’s families a huge disservice by continuing to neglect the mental health of mums postpartum, which this new research from NCT brings into sharp focus. Maternal mental health is a key predictor in future outcomes for children, so it’s in all of our best interests to act now to better support mums with newborns. 

“Netmums wholeheartedly supports the call for full funding of a dedicated six-week check for mums – we know from the overwhelming number of mums who come to the Netmums forum, struggling with their mental health, that not providing support early on to mums who’ve just had a baby only leads to bigger problems, and greater suffering for all the family later on."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Having a baby is usually a very special time but it can lead to a whole host of physical and mental health concerns for new mothers, and it's essential they feel comfortable discussing these with their GP and other healthcare professionals, and that they receive the appropriate support.

"The routine six-week postnatal check, usually offered to all new mothers in addition to the formal health check of their newborn baby, should be a time for the GP to be able to talk to women about issues affecting their mental and physical health and wellbeing and take steps to address them.

"But, even though six-week checks are generally longer than the standard 10-minute appointment, it is still incredibly hard for GPs to explore all the different factors potentially affecting a new mother's health within the time constraints – particularly at a time when general practice is facing intense resource and workforce pressures.

"Checks for new mothers need to be funded and promoted in the same way that checks for newborns are so that GPs can spend the time they feel they need to with both the baby and its mother. We hope today's calls from the National Childbirth Trust for the Government to fund checks for all new mothers are given serious consideration so that we can continue to give all of our patients, including new mothers, the care they need and deserve."

* Royal College of General Practitioners https://www.rcgp.org.uk/

* National Childbirth Trust https://www.nct.org.uk/

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