GPs ‘are treating key check-ups for new mothers as a box ticking exercise’, study suggests
- Watchdogs have warned many key six-week assessments are not taking place
- Failure means issues including mental health problems are going unnoticed
- GPs must assess the mental health of new mothers six to eight weeks after birth
Family doctors are neglecting new mothers by failing to offer crucial post-natal checks or treating them as a box-ticking exercise, a study suggests.
Patients’ watchdogs have warned that many key six-week assessments are simply not taking place – and when they do take place, are leaving women unsatisfied with the support they are given.
The failure means issues of mental health are going unnoticed, which can prevent mothers developing close bonds with their babies and also potentially destroy their relationships with their partners.
GPs are contractually obliged and paid to assess new mothers’ mental health and wellbeing six to eight weeks after giving birth. The consultations are to ensure the woman is recovering properly and are an opportunity for them to be referred to a specialist service if necessary.
However, a poll of 2,693 new mothers by Healthwatch England found 16 per cent did not receive the check-up.
Patients’ watchdogs have warned that many key six-week assessments are simply not taking place – and when they do take place, are leaving women unsatisfied with the support they are given
Of those who did, 15 per cent were assessed over the phone and only 22 per cent were satisfied with the time their GP spent talking to them about their mental health. Around two-thirds of the women said they had struggled with their mental health during and after pregnancy.
Among these, 41 per cent said they received no support to help with their mental health during and post-pregnancy.
The watchdog warned that delays in accessing mental health support can have a significant impact on new parents, with some telling the organisation they struggled to leave the house, bond with their child or maintain relationships.
The findings come after the Care Quality Commission warned of a ‘concerning decline’ in women’s experiences with maternity services due to a shortage of frontline staff.
Healthwatch England’s Louise Ansari said: ‘Our findings show that, although most new mothers and birthing parents are likely to be invited to a postnatal consultation, these are frequently carried out as a tick-box exercise where mental health is not treated as a priority or not assessed at all.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘The NHS is working with GPs and patient groups to ensure that all new mums receive a postnatal check covering mental and physical health six weeks after giving birth, as is set out in the GP contract.’
Healthwatch England has made a series of recommendations to NHS England and local health bodies.