Psychiatric facility in North Wales brings support closer to patients' homes
An artist's impression of the new facility
New and expectant mums from North Wales who need specialist hospital care for severe mental health problems will be able to access treatment closer to home when a new mother and baby unit opens its doors next year.
The facility, on the site of the Countess of Chester Hospital, will significantly reduce travel times for patients and families from across North Wales, who are currently offered admission to specialist units in Manchester, Chorley, Birmingham and Nottingham, as well as the Uned Gobaith Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Swansea.
The eight-bedded, purpose-built facility will support new and expectant mothers in a therapeutic environment which has been designed for people experiencing maternal mental health difficulties, such as postnatal depression, psychosis, or a relapse of an existing mental health condition.
And it will meet best practice guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which suggests that MBUs should provide between six and eight beds in order to ensure a sustainable and high-quality service.
As modelling shows that just two ring-fenced inpatient beds are required to serve the population of North Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has worked with partners in NHS England on a joint solution that improves access for women in North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside.
It’s quite daunting being admitted to a MBU and I would have benefited greatly if my husband was nearer to me while I was in the unit in Manchester, especially when I needed him quickly
The health board is taking a range of actions to strengthen Welsh language provision, including providing bilingual signage throughout; prioritising Welsh-speaking applicants in recruitment to the new unit; and providing access to a Welsh language line 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Nia Foulkes was admitted to a specialist mother and baby unit in Manchester after giving birth to her son, Gwilym, in May 2019.
She said that being away from the support network of friends and family took its toll on her.
And she has since campaigned for an MBU to be established in North Wales and launched a petition which drew almost 8,000 signatures.
Foulkes, who has bipolar disorder, has been using her lived experience to help the health board design the new service.
She said: “I am happy the new MBU is going to be in Chester, with easier access for North Wales patients, and I am very happy to hear of the Welsh provisions in the new unit.
“It’s quite daunting being admitted to a MBU and I would have benefited greatly if my husband was nearer to me while I was in the unit in Manchester, especially when I needed him quickly.
Women from North Wales who have a lived experience of perinatal mental health difficulties have played a central role in shaping these plans and we’re extremely grateful for their input
“The separation has had a lasting effect on both of us.
“I believe I would have been home sooner if I was closer to home and had more support visits from close family and friends.
“I was very grateful to be invited to meetings where I shared my experience of using an MBU and gave my opinion on the new unit in Chester.”
The plans include a nursery, sensory room, and multiple lounges to support quiet time and family visits.
And having access to outside spaces is central to the plans, with two garden areas and a walking pram loop, with families also set to benefit from the access to green spaces on the edge of the Countess Country Park.
Teresa Owen, executive director responsible for mental health and learning disabilities at the health board, said: “We’re very excited to be working with our partners in NHS England on this much-needed development, which will ensure that the small number of women from North Wales who require this level of specialist support can receive their care closer to home.
“Women from North Wales who have a lived experience of perinatal mental health difficulties have played a central role in shaping these plans and we’re extremely grateful for their input.
“We’re also delighted that we have been able to introduce measures to ensure that the Welsh language is considered throughout.”