Are GPs failing new mothers with postnatal depression?

According to the Guardian, on the 1st October, we GPs are. I quote Ann Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, on a survey done of new mothers, which supposedly show most are offered antidepressants, not counselling :

“Longfield said that the results of the report were shocking and showed that postnatal depression was not being taken seriously: “It just reveals so much in terms of lack of empathy and sympathy for these people. It’s a complete disregard for their health and wellbeing.

“It seems that, from the Department of Health’s point of view, it’s not an issue; they don’t even ask the questions or collect the information. It’s seen as an everyday little personal issue and GPs, I’m afraid, are not proving very sympathetic to those mothers that are coming through their door. At the end of the day, no one is taking it seriously.”

Of more than 2,000 mothers questioned, 70% were given antidepressants when they approached their doctor. The Nice guidelines recommend early diagnosis and quick access to treatment to limit the damaging effect postnatal depression has on the baby, the partner and other children in the family. The international health body states that psychological therapies should be offered as an alternative to antidepressants.”

I can’t tell you whether or not this is true because the survey is not available. I phoned the press office: these are serious allegations against GPs and the NHS. I was told that they are not available because the survey results are ‘under embargo’ until tomorrow. I then said that this isn’t how you should do it – the purpose of embargo is to allow journalists to get their story straight before publication, not to create a puff of publicity when people can’t get the full results. I said this isn’t how it should be done, and was told that the embargo purpose wasn’t the same as for science stories as this ‘wasn’t a scientific study’. Yet Longfield feels it’s good enough to draw firm conclusions from.

Alarm bells started to ring for me when the Guardian said that the survey was run by Bounty – you know, the freebies ‘parenting club’ whom the NCT have been rightly having a go at because of their sales pitches in postnatal hospital wards.

I’ll write more on this if – when – I get the data. Until then, it’s worth noting that waiting lists for CBT  are, appallingly,  around 8 weeks in many areas; this makes the choice for a moderately depressed person given the choice between waiting for therapy vs  antidepressants now somewhat skewed.

UPDATE at 9pm 2nd October

I now have the press release and ‘report’. The survey of 2,000 mothers was done via the Bounty website, on their ‘Word of Mouth’ panel. They have not shown the questions asked, or each result, or provided the results as they would be in a scientific  study. This means that drawing the conclusions Longacre has is unreasonable. It is also worth noting that if you take part in the ‘word of mouth’ panel, you are given payment to do so (see here: . We have no way of knowing that the answers given are reflective of a cross section of the population – and since there was a large difference in the numbers of women describing depression compared to scientific studies examining the same, we should be suspicious of the findings in terms of reliability. And Bounty are a commercial company, not a charity.
If we are going to make major policy changes on the back of this kind of ‘research’, we will serve families badly.

2 Responses to “Are GPs failing new mothers with postnatal depression?”

  1. The Jobbing Doctor October 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    Good work again, Margaret. I was highly suspicious of the provenance of this story from the outset.

    My post is less measured and a little more ranting in tone.


  2. Margaret McCartney
    margaretmccartney October 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    and thank you – I enjoyed it.

    My work is hard enough without having to deal with this kind of publicity seeking nonsense.