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Health / Health board offering ‘as much mental health care as it can’ locally to new mums

NHS Shetland says it wants to offer as much care as possible locally after MSP Beatrice Wishart highlighted new mothers have to travel hundreds of miles to access inpatient mental health treatment.

Speaking in parliament recently, the Liberal Democrat said it appeared there was a “postcode lottery” in accessing perinatal services from mother and baby units in the Central Belt.

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She also asked if the Scottish Government would look to increase the financial provision provided to families involved in accessing this treatment.

Wishart said at the moment people visiting someone in a mother and baby unit can claim up to £500 from the fund to cover the cost of travel, accommodation and food.

She suggested that for people travelling from Shetland that would not go far enough.

But while NHS Shetland’s child health manager Clare Stiles confirmed local women can only access this in-patient treatment in Livingston or Glasgow, very few from the isles require this support.

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And she stressed that there is a desire from the health board to provide as much care locally as possible.

“Mothers with moderate to severe mental health problems can access mental health support and treatment in Shetland from the community mental health team, if they are well enough to remain at home,” Stiles said.

“If they require in-patient specialist treatment in a mother and baby unit (MBU), then patients from Shetland and the rest of Scotland access services based at St John’s Hospital, Livingston or Leverndale Hospital, Glasgow.

“Very few women from Shetland require these very highly specialised services, but we recognise that travel and the impact of that on patients and their families is something we would want to minimise and offer as much care as we can locally.”

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The units in Livingston and Glasgow can each take up to six women and their babies.

Over the five years between 2016 and 2020, there were on average 115 admissions per year.

A 2019 report recommended that Scotland could benefit from a further four mother and baby unit beds, and the Scottish Government is currently consulting on options to increase capacity.

During his response to Wishart’s parliament question, government minister Kevin Stewart encouraged people in Shetland to respond to the consultation.

He said the government’s “first aim” is to strengthen community services so people do not need to access the specialist units unless absolutely necessary.

Stewart added that he is “more than willing” to speak to Wishart about the experiences of Shetland people accessing the mother and baby unit family fund.

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