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Can managed care networks improve perinatal mental healthcare for Black and minority ethnic (BME) women?

Dawn Edge (Research Fellow in the School of Community Based Medicine, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 16 September 2011




Perinatal mental illness is an important public health issue. Conditions such as postnatal depression increase mothers' risk of suicide and can herald onset of recurrent and chronic mental health problems. Maternal mental illness can also adversely impact the cognitive, physical, and psychological health and development of children. In light of known psychosocial risks, there is concern that fewer than expected women from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds access care and treatment. This paper aims to address this issue.


Responding to persistent reports of patchy service provision across the UK more generally and particular concerns about potentially unmet needs among BME women, mixed‐method research was undertaken between September 2009 and March 2010. Using survey questionnaires and telephone interviews, the study sought to explore professional stakeholders' perspectives on current perinatal mental health provision and the extent to which it meets the needs of BME women. Findings from the study were intended to inform policy and plans to improve provision by establishing managed care networks (MCNs) for perinatal mental healthcare.


In total, 45 questionnaires were returned from the national survey. One‐third of respondents (n=14) consented to follow‐up telephone interviews. There was evidence of multi‐agency working among the 27 professional groups which respondents reported as being directly involved in delivering perinatal mental healthcare across the country. However, there was also evidence of disjuncture and poor communication – particularly between statutory and voluntary sectors and NHS primary and secondary care. Some respondents had difficulty defining “BME” or identifying the women to whom the acronym might be applied. They also questioned the validity of providing “BME‐specific” services. Instead, they endorsed more ethnically “inclusive models” of provision and “signposting” women to appropriate “community” services.

Practical implications

Taken together, these findings suggests that whilst there might be a theoretical argument for perinatal mental health MCNs, considerable effort is required if policy‐makers' aspirations for more “joined‐up” services capable of meeting the needs of all women are to be fully realised. Furthermore, current proposals for public sector reform coupled with reduction in voluntary sector provision is likely to disproportionately affect women from BME and other marginalised communities as they provide significant amounts of “below the radar” care and support.


This paper is of particular relevance to policy makers and practitioners. Findings suggest that women from BME backgrounds might be particularly vulnerable to perinatal mental illness. Contraction of voluntary sector provision increases the likelihood that the needs of BME women will remain unmet with deleterious consequences for their health and wellbeing of their families. This has potentially serious public health implications. MCNs/clinical networks have the potential to reduce inequalities by providing more “joined up” care for all women. However, the evidence base for levels of need and appropriate service response to perinatal mental illness among BME women is weak. Further research is required to bridge the evidence gap and to evaluate the impact of health and social care reform on vulnerable groups.



Edge, D. (2011), "Can managed care networks improve perinatal mental healthcare for Black and minority ethnic (BME) women?", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 151-163.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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