Bitter-sweet delight at plans for Northern Ireland’s MBU

ON November 14 we finally had news that Belfast Trust will take forward plans for a Northern Ireland Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). Those of us who have been campaigning for many years are delighted that things are moving on, but it’s a bitter-sweet delight. We know that women have died while we’ve been waiting, and we know that unless there is an interim solution, women will continue to suffer while we wait for funding to be allocated and for a unit to be built.

We know that while suicide is the leading cause of maternal death, with the right care, it is preventable. We know an MBU to provide specialist inpatient care for mums experiencing severe postnatal illness and their babies would save lives, but Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK that doesn’t have one.

While the Belfast Trust drawing up a business strategy is a hugely positive step, we’ve repeatedly been told that it can’t be implemented without an Assembly. And while we wait for an Assembly, women are dying. Women are receiving non-specialist care, separated from their baby, causing lifelong trauma.

It’s almost 18 months since the inquest into the tragic death of Orlaith Quinn, who took her own life in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in 2018, two days after she gave birth to her third child while experiencing post-partum psychosis. The coroner said Northern Ireland needs an MBU. But since then more families bereaved by suicide have come to Action on Post-partum Psychosis for support.

An MBU provides specialist care for both mum and baby. Mental health teams with specialist training are able to provide the best care, for example: prescribing drugs that are suitable for use in the perinatal period; supporting the mother-infant relationship and the development of parenting skills; providing adequate post-partum physical care and appropriate facilities (such as nappy changing, milk fridges, play areas, safe places for older siblings to visit).

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 post-partum psychosis, severe depression and anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Around 100 will need admission to hospital.

Members of APP’s NI Peer Support group, who have been campaigning hard for an MBU, tell us about the distress of being separated from their babies, and how this has stayed with them, in some cases for many, many years.

We’re delighted that we’re a step closer, we’re so thankful to everyone who has been working tirelessly to make an MBU for Northern Ireland a reality, but we can’t keep waiting. We need government sign-off, funding to be allocated, commitment to a time frame, and an interim solution so that women can be treated safely now.

How many more women should be separated from their babies? How many more women will die before mums in Northern Ireland get the support they need?

Dr Jess Heron

Chief Executive, Action on Post-partum Psychosis

Chance for north to develop its full potential

THERE is a sense of real normalisation coming about in Northern Ireland – albeit a cautiously optimistic one which will be disputed in certain quarters. People are, however, beginning to notice that things are getting better and maintaining it.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which is not fully operational, has had the effect of passively establishing the principle of peace and bringing it about. For many decades, Northern Ireland only knew of war, but the GFA/BA sold people the idea and ideal of peace and the possibility of reconciliation.

We cannot of course put it all down to the Good Friday Agreement which was instrumental in bringing about the present situation – the infrastructure of terrorism also had to be tackled. Terrorism is one of the biggest threats to democracy. The relative peace and normalisation which Northern Ireland is now experiencing is very welcome and gives the province a chance to develop its full potential, instead of being held back by criminality. In time, Northern Ireland could be the most productive part of the United Kingdom, bringing massive investment.

The relative calm and peace that Northern Ireland is now experiencing is to be highly commended. It is of course a very fragile peace. However, many things have built on small beginnings and we should not lose sight of that. At the same time let’s not be complacent and continue to struggle to defeat the plans of detrimental forces in our society.

We can only appeal to those from the dark side to give peace a chance and democracy. It will do them good and everybody good and bring an end to conflict and perpetual hell. Well done NI… keep it up.

Maurice Fitzgerald

Shanbally, Co Cork

Caveat should be added to well-intentioned endeavour

AS the songwriter Paddy McAloon sang: “Once more the sound of crying is number one across the earth.”

As people take sides and to the streets to call for an end to human suffering they should be applauded, lauded and commended. But a caveat to this well-intentioned and honourable endeavour should be added to that outcry and righteous anger. And that is, it should not, however justified they feel, become an outpouring of vitriol and hate. It is all too human to see events through a veil of incandescent rage and anger at what we see but it blinds us from demanding what is needed – meaningful dialogue and action that could lead to a significant and permanent cessation of hostilities.

I fear that the conditions for a hiatus in the conflict and the ensuing carnage are being undermined and drowned out by the calls for victory, not peace. The vast majority of protesters are clearly seeking an end to the killing of the innocents, but there is a growing influence attempting to hijack that call for peace. An influence that is the antithesis of those who march for peace, a voice that calls for the destruction of one side over the other. That voice represents interests that are not served by dialogue and an end to the barbarity.

We here in Ireland know only too well those voices – voices who were opposed to an end to a new beginning; those who remained wedded to the past because they had no trust or belief or place in the future. Those voices are omnipresent throughout the world, whatever the conflict; and those who march and protest for peace and an end to violence must be vigilant and stand up to those who would rather see war as a means to pursue their own narrow agendas. Otherwise the song will remain the same.

Laurence Todd

Belfast BT15