Welsh language row breaks out over mums having to travel to England for specialist support
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
A language row has broken out over Welsh mums having to travel to England to access specialist mother and baby unit mental health services.
It comes amid claims that there is “not enough demand” to justify a standalone unit in North Wales.
The Welsh Government says it has been working with NHS England to develop a joint unit in north west England.
An eight-bedded mother and baby unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital is expected to welcome its first mothers and babies in late Spring to early Summer 2024.
Currently Welsh patients are offered admission to inpatient units in Manchester, Chorley, Birmingham and Nottingham, as well as the Uned Gobaith MBU near Swansea.
The issue has raised concerns that first language Welsh speakers will be unable to communicate in their native tongue, when at their most vulnerable.
After childbirth, some women experience crises such as post natal depression or psychosis.
Arfon MS Sian Gwenllian slammed the decision, saying: “The new mother and baby unit opening in 2024 will provide specialist support to mothers experiencing mental health problems, and is designed to support mothers across the north of Wales – but it will be in England.
“Chester is a long way from Amlwch.
“This is a poor decision. I’m very disappointed that the unit will not be based in the Betsi Cadwaladr region.
“Why not base the eight bed unit more central to North Wales, have it the other way round so patients from England can come here?
“That would ensure Welsh language needs of Welsh patients are met, English is also spoken here, our services are bilingual.”
Examples of how the Welsh language will be embedded into the fabric of the proposed MBU, include providing bilingual signage, inviting Welsh speaking applicants to apply for all posts and making recruitment information available bilingually.
Access to a Welsh language line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, developing nursery nurse-led activities in both languages and Welsh imagery in decor, are also included.
The MS said that was “superficial” and “lip service”.
She said: “What women want in dire situations is to communicate in their first language with health professionals, it is crucial.
“We need a unit in North Wales with an emphasis on people having Welsh language skills.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring mother and baby unit provision across Wales.
“A six bed unit is currently operating in South Wales.
“There is insufficient demand for a standalone service in North Wales, so we have been working with NHS England to develop a joint unit in north west England.
“We are also investing to improve support in community perinatal mental health teams.”
Dr Alberto Salmoiraghi, medical director for BCUHB’s Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Division, said: “Best practice guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that in order to ensure a sustainable, high quality service, mother and baby units should provide between six and eight beds.
“Modelling has shown that just two ringfenced inpatient beds are required to serve the population of North Wales.
“As there is not enough demand to justify a standalone unit in North Wales, we have worked collaboratively with NHS partners in England to find a solution which better meets the needs of mothers in North Wales and those in the north west of England.
“Two of these eight beds will be ringfenced for women from North Wales, ensuring access to specialist inpatient care much closer to home than is currently the case.
“We are determined to ensure that this new unit provides the very best care for mothers across the region.”
Mrs Gwenllian added: “I am not convinced there is no demand in North Wales.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.