By: 29 April 2024
NHS Scotland staff ‘best placed’ to help close mental health gap for new mums during awareness week

New and expectant mothers are being encouraged to access support and information during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (29 April – 5 May 2024) – and it may also represent a timely opportunity for NHS Scotland staff to help innovate in this increasingly highlighted area.

Themed ‘Rediscovering you’, the campaign – organised by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK – aims to heighten public and professional recognition of perinatal mental health problems.

It comes at a time when there are concerns over some women not receiving the care they need amid a gender health gap which particularly affects mothers from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Formal NHS Scotland partner InnoScot Health is actively working to support the bridging of that gap with its pregnancy and perinatal innovation call which reaches out to the 160,000-strong workforce by encouraging staff from all health boards to submit fresh ideas.

Head of Innovation Robert Rea said: “Maternal Health Awareness Week is an opportune time to remind NHS staff that InnoScot Health is on the lookout for mould-breaking pregnancy and perinatal innovation and that those working every day in the health service are best placed to spot the specific areas in which that might be achieved.

“They often see first-hand the mental health issues, both mild and severe, which new mothers can struggle with, and understand what a vulnerable period it can be.

“Their immense knowledge, experience, and diversity can be leveraged to identify the breakthroughs that are needed most in maternal mental health.

“They don’t have to be game-changing ideas – small adaptations to existing practices can have a big impact too as the health service looks to do more with less. Indeed, most innovation of this kind springs from iterations of existing interventions, modified for fresh contexts.

“Fundamentally, inspiring the workforce to come up with progressive new approaches that can target population groups at risk of service inequity is essential.

“To help encourage idea submissions, an InnoScot Health package for NHS Scotland staff includes support up to the value of £25k for initial seed funding, regulatory support, project management, and the extensive innovation expertise of our highly experienced team.” The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) insisted last year that some mothers in Scotland remain at risk of not receiving the help they need due to persistent regional variations in perinatal care. While recognising Scottish Government efforts through publication of the Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy and noting that specialist care has improved in recent years, the MMHA believes that around one in five women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or within the immediate years after having a baby, and say that suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the first postnatal year.

Innovation Manager Fiona Schaefer, pictured, continued: “Such issues represent significant challenges of course, but they also mean it’s an area with massive opportunity to make vital interventions through inclusive-minded innovation aimed at reducing inequalities in order to provide the right care for every woman and baby, regardless of location, income, or ethnicity.

“Genomics and artificial intelligence (AI) alone are increasingly showing promise as a way to bridge gaps in unmet need – from the ability to predict complications before they happen to targeted treatments where they arise.

“There has also been investment in Scotland’s growing number of perinatal mental health teams and mother and baby units (MBUs), funding for charities provided by the government’s Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund, as well as improved education accompanied by more open discourse.

“Such positive steps will be felt by Scottish society for generations to come, meaning better and enduring health outcomes. Healthcare innovation remains a key part of that puzzle and during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ll be especially keen to hear ideas that offer support for women experiencing mental health problems before and after delivery.”


Source: InnoScot Health

Image: Scottish Health Innovations Ltd (SHIL). Pictured Fiona Schaefer. Photograph by Martin Shields © Martin Shields