Concern 'women dying' over delay for Northern Ireland woman and baby unit

A Co Tyrone mother who was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis in 2017 after the birth of her fourth child has opened up about how she thought if she took her own life it would be better for her husband and her children. Teresa Hawkes from Omagh says a Mother and Baby Unit for Northern Ireland is critical to support others who are going through what she experienced. However, there are fears because of financial pressures the new health minister won't prioritise finding the money and it won't go ahead. "I wanted to drive out into the road and wait for a lorry to come. Very very dark moments because I thought if I was gone life would be better for my husband and children," she told UTV. The 46-year-old was admitted to a mental health unit in Omagh for two weeks. Separated from her new born and family.

"That day when she was admitted was one of the few times in my life I just broke down after walking out of that building. I didn't know what was happening or going on. It was very frightening," her husband Ryan said.

Teresa with her family.

In November 2023 Belfast City Hospital was identified as the most suitable location for a new unit. However, the the Belfast Trust has yet to publish a business plan. In a statement the trust said it has been invited to prepare an outline business case for the provision of the proposed regional unit.

"The timescale for the approval of this business case remains subject to the identification of capital and revenue funding to deliver the unit, in the context of an overall challenging financial context," the statement said.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t have a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), which provides specialist inpatient care for mums experiencing severe postnatal illness and their babies. Instead, mothers are admitted to general acute psychiatric wards for non-specialist treatment, separating them from babies.

One in five women will experience mental health problems during pregnancy or after birth.

Around 1,000 women each year in Northern Ireland will develop a severe postnatal illness. This can include postpartum psychosis, severe depression and anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Between 84 and 122 will need admission to hospital. Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death, but with the right care it is almost always preventable.

The cost of setting up the unit is estimated to be £10m.

Liz Morrison from Action on Postpartum Psychosis NI said: "Our message to [Health Minister] Mike Nesbitt is the Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland has be a priority. It's grim when it comes to health funding and we know we are competing with a lot of other very valid pressures but women are dying."

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