Pregnant women and new mothers in almost quarter of the UK are unable to access specialist perinatal mental health services according to data from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA).

The latest information, which reveals progress is being made in some parts of the country but not in others where women face a postcode lottery, does not reflect well on the government given its pledges to tackle mental health issues.

In 24% of the UK women have no access to perinatal mental health resources despite services being available in their area, a situation the MMHA described as “unacceptable.”

Perinatal mental illness affects 20% of women according to NHS England (NHSE) which promised to create access to specialist support across England by 2020-21 as part of the Five-Year Forward View, allowing some 30,000 women each year to receive evidence-based treatment closer to home.

Yet as a five-year £365 million NHSE programme to improve perinatal mental health services gets underway, much work is still to be done as highlighted by the MMHA which reported there has been “no prioritised funding” in Scotland and Northern Ireland so far for specialist community services.

However, local health boards in Wales have “rapidly improved services” courtesy of government funds. Over one in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby, the MMHA said.

“Women with the most severe perinatal illnesses need to be able to access vital specialist services wherever they live. If left untreated these illnesses can have a devastating impact on women and their families,” it said.

“In the most serious cases, perinatal mental illness can be life threatening: suicide is a leading cause of death for women during pregnancy and one year after giving birth.

“When a woman lives in an area where she is able to access specialist services, with a team of trained staff, it can make all the difference to her quality of care, speed of recovery and sup-port both for her and relationships with her baby and family.”