At least 16,000 pregnant women and new mothers missed out on mental health support during the pandemic, new figures reveal.
Covid pressures on the NHS meant women were abandoned to deal with suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has warned.
In some areas, pregnant women and new mothers had just a 10 per cent chance of getting the help they needed.
The study also blamed pre-existing deficiencies, although the NHS had improved its services for these women in recent years and was coming close to meeting its target before Covid struck.
Up to one in five women suffer from mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth, with around two-thirds of women typically downplaying their illness.
Around 47,000 women would have been expected to access perinatal mental health services in 2020, but only 31,261 managed to access any help.
During the peaks of the Covid crisis, NHS staff were routinely redeployed to Covid wards.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, a RCP registrar who works in perinatal mental health, said: “Many women can develop mental health problems for the first time during pregnancy and after birth, or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.
“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times but services have been under unprecedented strain.
“Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
She added: “Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.”
The RCP analysis found huge local variation in the chances of receiving help.
In north central London, the worst-performing area of the country, just 150 out of 1,521 pregnant women or new mothers expected to access specialist support were able to get it.
By contrast, in west London, 250 women accessed support during the pandemic, more than the 181 projected by the NHS for that area.
In April, health chiefs announced the NHS would offer extra counselling and support for around 6,000 new mothers from 26 hubs across the country.
Ten of the sites are promised to be up and running within months, with the remainder opening by April next year.