New and expectant mothers from North Wales needing specialist hospital care for severe mental health problems will be able to access treatment closer to home, when a new mother and baby unit opens its doors next year.
The unit, at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester, will significantly reduce travel times for patients and families from across North Wales, who are currently offered admission to specialist units in Manchester, Chorley, Birmingham, and Nottingham, and at the Uned Gobaith Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Swansea. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board says the eight-bedded facility will support new and expectant mothers in a therapeutic environment ‘purposefully designed for people experiencing maternal mental health difficulties’ – such as postnatal depression, psychosis, or a relapse of an existing mental health condition. It will meet Royal College of Psychiatrists best practice guidance, which suggests that MBUs should provide between six and eight beds, ‘to ensure a sustainable and high-quality service’.
As modelling shows that just two ring-fenced inpatient beds are required to serve the population of North Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has worked with partners in NHS England on a joint solution that improves access for women in North Wales, Cheshire, and Merseyside. The Health Board is taking a range of actions to strengthen Welsh language provision, including providing bilingual signage throughout, prioritising Welsh- speaking applicants in recruitment to the new unit, and providing access to a Welsh language line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Nia Foulkes was admitted to a specialist mother and baby unit in Manchester after giving birth to her son, Gwilym, in May 2019. Nia, from Ruthin, says being away from the support network of friends and family took its toll, and she has since campaigned for an MBU to be established in North Wales, including by launching a petition which drew almost 8,000 signatures. Nia has bipolar disorder, and has used her lived experience to help the Health Board design the new service. She said: “I am happy the new MBU is going to be in Chester with easier access for North Wales patients, and very happy to hear of the Welsh provisions in the new unit. It’s quite daunting being admitted to a MBU, and I would have benefited greatly if my husband was nearer to me while I was in the Manchester unit, especially when I needed him quickly. The separation has had a lasting effect on both of us. I believe I would have been home sooner if I was closer to home and having more support visits from close family and friends. I was very grateful to be invited to meetings where I shared my experience of using an MBU, and gave my opinion on the new unit in Chester.”
The plans include a nursery, sensory room, and multiple lounges to support quiet time and family visits. There will also be two garden areas and a walking pram loop, with families set to benefit from the access to green spaces on the edge of the Countess Country Park.
Teresa Owen, Executive director responsible for BCUHB’s Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, said: “Women from North Wales with lived experience of perinatal mental health difficulties have played a central role in shaping these plans, and we’re extremely grateful for their input.”
The new unit is set to open in 2024.