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West Bridgford
Tuesday, 7 July 2020 - 9:48am

County council under fire over plans to scrap mental health support scheme for new mums

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A row has broken out over a controversial decision to scrap a mental health scheme which helps pregnant women and new mothers.

The Conservative-led Nottinghamshire County Council says the change will help to streamline services and ensure women receive mental healthcare in the best way possible.

But Labour has accused the Conservatives of ‘targeting’ vulnerable women by making ‘callous and incompetent’ cuts.

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The mental health scheme, known as Footsteps, is a volunteer-led peer-to-peer service, where mums help other mums and pregnant women going through mild to moderate mental health difficulties.

Originally piloted in Mansfield and Rushcliffe, it has recently been rolled out across the county.

The council says 53 per cent of women who responded to a survey found there was an improvement in their mental wellbeing.

Now, the council will direct women directly to NHS services, rather than offer Footsteps first.

Changes are also being made to early intervention speech therapists, with estimates that two thirds could be cut from the budget.

The new changes are centred around Children’s Centres, which are based across the county and aim to provide wrap-around care and early intervention for the most vulnerable families.

The contract for the centres is being brought back in house by the council in June, and services are being cut in a bid to save £1 million from the current £10.4 million budget.

Exact figures of how much the mental health support and speech and language therapy cuts could save are currently unavailable.

This is because by law the county council is not allowed to see a breakdown of costs in the current contract until 28 days before it is handed over to them.

However, the cuts currently proposed are unlikely to be the last – they are listed in a council document as ‘initial’ changes to services.

Councillor Liz Plant is Labour’s spokeswoman for Children and Young People, and represents West Bridgford North.

She said: “There is absolutely no way that Labour councillors can support these proposals, which have been designed with one thing in mind: savings of £1m.

“Once again, we find that these cuts are targeting our most vulnerable – young mothers who may need additional mental health support during pregnancy, and young children who require some speech and language input to ensure they are able to interact with their peers and start their school lives ready to learn”.

“It is impossible to fathom the logic of these cuts when the government has just revised the Early Learning Goals and is placing even greater emphasis on improving children’s early language and communication skills and closing the ‘word gap’ between disadvantaged pupils and their more advantaged peers.

“The young families who will likely be affected are those who already struggling, either with their mental health or with a child who may have special educational needs.

“To knowingly target these services shows a level of policy incompetence and callousness not previously seen in Nottinghamshire, and I fear for those who will suffer as a result of these decisions”.

Conservative councillor Philip Owen is the chairman of the committee which made the decision today, and represents Nuthall and Kimberley.

He said: “You (Labour) say that you can’t support it, despite the fact it’s going to provide a more joined-up service. Now that seems absurd.

“We’re going to provide a more joined-up service. The new pathway is going to evolve with speech and language therapy.

“I know it must come as a great disappointment to you that we’re not shutting large numbers of children’s centres, you’ve been going on about this since we took control (in 2017) it’s a bit like the Brexit argument, they said it’s going to be the end of the world and the end of the children’s centres, and that just has not happened.

“We are looking to streamline the services to provide better outcomes and that is what it is all about.”

The vote passed by six votes to five.

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