Improving access to support on neonatal units

For babies to have the best outcomes, it is important that their parents are able to be involved and deliver their care. The neonatal unit can be a daunting and stressful environment, and it is important that parents also receive the support they need so they are able to fully take part in their baby's care.

Parents should be able to access mental health support, which is provided by a person who is trained, directly from the neonatal unit their baby is being cared for in. While national standards, which set out what high quality care looks like, say that parents should be able to access support, they largely do not set out what this should look like in practice.

Our research has found that many neonatal units are unable to provide parents access to a trained mental health worker, such as a counsellor or psychotherapist:

  • 41 per cent of neonatal units in England do not have access to a trained mental health professional
  • Only five out of 11 neonatal units in Wales can have access to psychological support
  • 10 out of 13 units in Scotland have access to some psychological support
  • Five out of seven neonatal units in Northern Ireland do not have access to a trained mental health professional.

I was extremely anxious all the time. To have had someone to chat to in hospital would have helped a lot.

Mum of a baby born at 30 weeks

What is Bliss doing about this?

We have been involved in recently influencing a series of reviews and strategies which intend to improve the quality of neonatal care across the UK. We have highlighted the importance of parents being involved in their baby's care and the need for more comprehensive mental health support:

  • The Best Start, which is a five year plan to improve neonatal and maternity care in Scotland.
  • The updated All Wales Neonatal Standards specify clearly that neonatal units should have access to enough clinical psychologists to meet demand.
  • The British Association for Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) Quality Indicators say that neonatal units should provide parents access to mental health support, and they should be auditing themselves and working to improve their offer.

Bliss will continue to campaign for better access to trained mental health support directly on neonatal units, and for better facilities so that parents are able to spend the time they need growing their confidence and providing care to their baby.

What should I do if my unit does not offer any mental health support to families?

There is still help and support available for you, even if your unit does not have access to a mental health professional.

Please see our pages on supporting your mental health on the neonatal unit for information on how to access support, as well as practical information and tips on how to support your mental health while you baby is receiving neonatal care.