Orlaith Quinn's sister-in-law 'sick to stomach' women still taking their own lives post-pregnancy

The sister-in-law of a woman who took her own life two days after giving birth to her third child in the Royal Victoria Hospital in 2018, says she is 'sick to her stomach' that women are still taking their own lives after pregnancy.

A coroner ruled in may 2022 that the death of 33-year-old Orlaith Quinn could have been prevented and called for a mother and baby unit be set up here. However, since then more mothers have died by suicide and Northern Ireland still does not have a specialist unit.

Around 20% of women will experience mental health problems during pregnancy or after birth with an an estimated 35 women developing severe mental illness like post partum psychosis, something that should be treated as a medical emergency.

However, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a mother and baby unit and with no Stormont Executive, strategies can mean very little as decisions are not able to be made.

Orlaith's sister-in-law Oorlagh Quinn said the creation of a mother and baby unit is crucial to preventing further deaths.

Ms Quinn said she feels women are being let down every day here and that many of them would still be here if a mother and baby unit existed.

"It's completely critical, that is exactly what it will do, save lives because Orlaith would still be with us if there had been a mother and baby unit here," she said.

Oorlagh added: "It is just so disheartening, everyday, week after week hearing of other tragedies and still nothing, it is just being ignored.

"Orlaith was the just the best, she was the best mummy, the best wife, the best friend, she was just brilliant.

"I know first hand what it is like and there is not really any words to describe how it has affected our family.

"There is vulnerable women it is happening over and over again and it is going to keep happening until something is done."

On Wednesday the Royal College of Midwives launched a road map to improve services for mothers.

Karen Murray from the RCM said: "We are consistently trying to do our best, but we don't have the blueprint and we don't have the direction in terms of how we improve services and make them much more effective."

Ms Murray also thinks like Oorlagh that women and their families are being let down.

She said: "There are decisions that need to be made, there are things that need to be brought forward that protect the lives of mothers, babies and families."

The strategy hopes to boost skills and see specialist midwives put in place but pressures on the system make it more difficult day to day;

"Karen Murray says staff need time to provide proper care, however, appointments are currently being rushed with mothers only getting 10-20 minutes with a midwife.

She says: "We are also seeing fewer community based appointments as women are being asked to come into clinics.

"So all of that interferes with that ability to actually form the relationship and have good conversations to help women feel comfortable about actually describing how they are feeling.

"There is a societal expectation that pregnancy and birth are a happy period of time and it should be joyful and you should be looking forward to it.

"That is not every woman's experience and it can be difficult for them to raise those issues, particularly in a clinic environment."

The Department of Health says: " A Regional Implementation Team has been established within the Public Health Agency to provide oversight, ensure regional consistency, create referral pathways and to ensure the new service is fully integrated.

"In early 2023, preliminary scoping work in relation to the establishment of a Mother and Baby Unit for the region began which has involved engagement with all Trusts.

"In addition, the Department commissioned an independent review team to make recommendations on a suitable model and location for the unit that would best suit the needs of the population.

"The final report from the independent review is expected to be submitted to the Department in the coming weeks. Once this is received, the Department will consider the next steps including the preparation of a Strategic Outline Case for the unit."

The Public Health Agency said in a statement: "Perinatal mental health is an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions such as antenatal/ postnatal depression or anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis.

"It’s important to remember that these conditions are very treatable and it’s important to seek help early.

“When addressing Perinatal Mental Health in Northern Ireland, a stepped care approach is used.

“For women with mild to moderate illness, which occurs in approximately 10-15 % of births, there are a number of different interventions, from community and voluntary programmes to low level interventions by Primary Care, Midwives and Health Visitors.

“For women with severe illness, there are five Community Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Teams, one in each Trust area.

“These teams receive between 15-20 referrals per month, although not all of the referrals are accepted by the Trusts.”

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