QUEENSLAND’S Mental Health Commissioner says the state is failing women at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives – during pregnancy and in the months after they give birth. Lesley van Schoubroeck will release a discussion paper this week highlighting the “inadequacy” of mental health services for Queensland women during their child-bearing years.
She said Queensland had only one dedicated public hospital bed for women with post-natal depression and their babies, located at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.
“We need significantly more investment in that space to bring Queensland up to the rest of Australia,” she said. “Access to clinical services are not good. Compared to the rest of Australia, it’s really bad, really inadequate.”
Her comments follow the release of the latest Queensland Maternal and Perinatal Quality Council Report, revealing more than 60 women died in the three years between January 2009 and December 2011 while carrying a baby or within 365 days of their pregnancy ending. Of those, 19 took their own lives.
Council chairman Michael Humphrey said although the number of maternal suicides was a major concern, the problem was being seen throughout Australia and internationally.
Dr van Schoubroeck said her discussion paper would raise the need for a specialised public mental health unit to provide inpatient treatment for women and their babies.
While Brisbane’s Belmont Private Hospital provides 10 beds for women with postnatal depression and their newborns, she will champion the need for a public unit.
“West Australia has an eight-bed public unit and another eight bed one opening soon,’’ Dr Schoubroeck said. “South Australia has a six-bed public unit.”
She said Victoria had 42 beds for women and their babies across both the public and private sectors.
“My understanding is that one in six women will experience moderate to severe peri-natal mental illness,” Dr Schoubroeck said. “That’s a lot of women.”
She said the discussion paper would also seek public input about how community-based mental health services could be improved for women during the peri-natal period – from their baby’s conception to within a year of them giving birth.
A Queensland Health spokeswoman said women with post-natal depression requiring public hospital treatment could be admitted with their babies to an acute mental health unit, maternity ward or a general hospital ward.
“This is generally accompanied with mental health consultation-liaison support,” she said.
A spokesman for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said part of the impetus behind the Newman Government’s “Mums and Bubs” initiative, costing $28.9 million over four years, was to pick up women experiencing post-natal depression.
Under the policy, women receive two home visits from a child health worker in the first month of a baby’s life.
This article first appeared on The Daily Telegraph on 18 August 2014.