Thousands of new and expectant mums from across Cheshire and Merseyside are to benefit from the launch of a new specialist mental health service.

Cheshire and Mersey Specialist Perinatal Service has been set up to support women and families experiencing mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year after birth.

It consists of three local teams, provided by Cheshire and Wirral Partnership (CWP), North West Boroughs Healthcare and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trusts.

The three teams aim to improve access to treatments, and improve training for frontline staff who care for local women. The goal is to ensure consistent, high-quality care across the region.

NHS England has committed more than £3m to the project, which forms part of the Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation Partnership.

Speaking at the launch of CWP’s local team at Sycamore House, Ellesmere Port, consultant psychiatrist Dr Tania Stanway said: “Mental health problems are the second leading cause of death among women in the perinatal period.

“Mental illness also has long-term effects on women, their children and the wider family.

“The launch of this new service is fantastic news as it means we are able to provide improved care and mental health support for thousands of women during this critical time in their lives.”

Tom Slater, a student nurse from Birkenhead, attended the launch event.

He said: “It’s been really interesting and it’s been good to talk to such a diverse range of mental health professionals, some of whom have come from services that I didn’t even know existed.

“As a man, it has also been useful to learn about perinatal issues from the dad perspective, as well as from the mother’s side. This event has been of great benefit to someone like me who has a work background in health and social care.”

Women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues during the perinatal period than at any other point in their lives. More than 20% of the 27,000 women giving birth in Cheshire and Merseyside each year experience some sort of mental health issue and, if untreated, these difficulties can have a long-term impact on both mother and child.

Early intervention from the new specialist service will reduce the risk of local women and their children experiencing problems in the future.

Cheshire and Merseyside is one of 44 areas across England that have come together to develop Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships. The partnerships aim to deliver the priorities in the NHS Five year Forward View, which include ambitious commitments to improving mental health services.

All three of the NHS Foundation Trusts involved have committed to the transformation of mental health services in Cheshire and Merseyside, which is being led by CWP chief executive Sheena Cumiskey.

She said: “As partners working across Cheshire and Merseyside, we aim to develop greater collaborative working so that we can deliver consistent, high-quality care across the region.

“Everyone involved is delighted that women will be able to access services across the whole of Cheshire and Merseyside.

“Additional funding is expected to become available nationally to support mental health transformation and we will continue to work collaboratively across Cheshire and Merseyside to access this and deliver improvements for our population.”

Nicola Allen, head of the Medical Directorate for NHS England, Cheshire and Merseyside, said: “This is good news for Cheshire and Merseyside.

“A priority is to improve the community services available for new and expectant mums.

“We believe this new service will put the region ahead of the curve in terms of developing services to prevent women and their children experiencing mental health problems in the future.”

Rebecca Brook, a teacher from Macclesfield, was diagnosed with depression shortly after giving birth to daughter Eleanor in 2015.

She said: “I struggled to breastfeed when Eleanor was first born. This made me feel like I had failed as a mother, which led to strong feelings of depression and anxiety.

“I knew about the dangers of mental health to women during the perinatal period, but I never realised just how bad it makes women feel.

“I felt lonely and isolated. There were constant tears and even times when I felt like running away because I thought Eleanor would be better off without me as her mum.

“I was lucky to have such fantastic support from my health visitor, as well as local mothering group, SMILE. However, I understand that some people aren’t so lucky.

“It’s pleasing to hear about this new service as I’m sure it can really help to change stigma around perinatal mental health and provide consistent levels of support for local women.”

For more information on Cheshire and Mersey Specialist Perinatal Service follow @cmperinatal on Twitter or visit the website