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Birmingham and Solihull Mental health NHS Foundation Trust
Better Together

Five Minutes With... a Deputy Medical Director and Clinical Lead for Perinatal Mental Health Services

Published: 18/08/2022

In our latest ‘Five Minutes With’ feature, we sit down with Dr Giles Berrisford. Giles is our Deputy Medical Director (Professional Practice, Legal and Transformation) and is the Clinical Lead for Perinatal Mental Health Services. As well as his role within the Trust he is also the National Specialty Advisor for Perinatal Mental Health, NHS England.

During the interview, we learn more about the incredible work Giles does to support the mental health of mums across the country and why he deems his role to be ‘the most important job ever’. 

Hello Giles, could you start by telling us, what inspired you to choose psychiatry?

When I did my undergraduate training, I saw that there was a lot of stigma attached to a mental health diagnosis. Patients were treated differently and it seemed very unfair. I felt there was a lot that could be done to help and support patients with mental illnesses and I found this area of medicine fascinating.

Giles Berrisford

What made you decide to specialise in perinatal psychiatry?

Mental illnesses can often be very cruel, for new mothers this seems to be doubly true. Not only have they become mentally ill, it’s at a time where there’s an expectation that they should be happy and focussed on their baby. Families often find it shocking that a new mother feels severely depressed or has dramatically changed with symptoms of postpartum psychosis.

I recognised that these mothers desperately needed care and support and that they responded well to the treatment being provided. It’s rewarding to see families and babies who are thriving and mothers who are hugely relieved to have come through this difficult period in their lives.

We can help families so much just by explaining mental health conditions and reassuring them that there is treatment and that most mothers do recover. 

I like the fact that it’s never about one person’s decision in mental health – we have an amazing team made up of psychologists, occupational therapists, nursery nurses, mental health nurses, doctors and social workers and we all work together to support mothers, babies and their families.

What does being a consultant in perinatal psychiatry mean to you?

To me this feels like the most important job ever as I am helping women when things haven’t turned out in the way they hoped and planned for. They are scared their baby will be taken away because they can’t look after them and are anxious that what has happened to them could change the course of their baby’s life and their own forever.

To be by someone’s side when they’re at their lowest ebb and walking with them to a place where things start to feel better is a real privilege. 

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of this role?

We do have some negative outcomes where things haven’t gone as well as we had hoped with mum and baby, but at that point we know as a team we have done everything we could to support them.

Another challenge we face is recognising that we work as part of a wider system. We work with local authorities, health visitors, social workers and the police to try to increase their understanding of mental health illness, so that women and families are treated with compassion and care.

We recognise too that these professionals have valuable knowledge and experience in their field and that we too need to understand, appreciate and respect their expertise.

Please can you tell us about your role as National Speciality Advisor? 

In 2016 when the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health announced an investment in perinatal mental health, I became the Associate National Clinical Director supporting the expansion of perinatal mental health services across England. In 2016 only 15% of the country had community perinatal mental health teams at an acceptable standard and 40% had no specialist service whatsoever. 

Collaborating with local teams, providers and commissioners, we developed a successful programme resulting in 100% of the country having these services in 2019. 

We were then in the fortunate position of being asked by the Department of Health and Social Care what else was needed to improve perinatal mental health services. Our recommendations included increasing access to our services, increasing the offer of psychological therapies, increasing the range for our service from 12 months to two years and give more support to partners and families by signposting them to appropriate care as needed. We also asked for maternal mental health support to be given to those women who do not have access to perinatal mental health services because they don’t have a baby. This may be due to, for example, fertility difficulties or infant death.

All our suggestions were incorporated into the long-term plan. We received additional funding and I became the National Speciality Advisor to lead on the development of future services. 

Clinicians and academics have worked hard to bring about these changes, but it has been women with lived experience telling their stories and explaining the positive impact these services have had on their lives which has really helped us to initiate change.

You are also the Deputy Medical Director (Professional Practice, Legal and Transformation) for the Trust – please can you tell us what this involves?

I aim to support our doctors to ensure that they have a rewarding career and can continue to grow and develop as the expert clinicians that they are. Our clinicians are essential to the development of clinically led services and help us to ensure that patients receive the very best care possible.  

Also, BSMHFT is one of the largest mental health training organisations in the country and I feel it’s important that our students are aware of how to interact with a patient with a mental health condition in a respectful and compassionate manner. A positive experience for the student means they may consider a career in psychiatry, hopefully with us.

I also ensure the Trust acts lawfully in relation to the mental health act and other legal requirements. Taking away someone’s liberty is one of the most powerful things anyone can do. We must be respectful and mindful of our patient’s needs to ensure the appropriate processes have been followed.

Has there been a standout moment in your career which has stayed with you?

My colleagues and I feel fortunate to work in perinatal mental health services. It’s only when our mum’s tell us how much our support means to them and the enormous impact it has had on them and their families that we realise we’ve not only helped them to recover from a mental health condition, but we’ve helped them to be become the mum they never thought they’d be.

Outside of clinical practice I have had other amazing opportunities including sitting on the BBC Breakfast red sofa with presenter, Naga Munchetty, discussing perinatal mental health services and jumping out of an aeroplane (with a parachute) to raise money for Action on Postpartum Psychosis, the national charity for women and families affected by postpartum psychosis.

Describe yourself in three words?

Curious, compassionate, empathetic

How do you look after your own health and wellbeing?

We have to try to prioritise our own self-care, so I make sure that I have a break from work and I try to look after my relationships with family and friends.

Also, I really enjoy tennis. My partners’ sister is a very good player and I most definitely wasn’t! She taught me to play during the pandemic and I can now hit the ball over the net, serve and hold my own on the court! Tennis has been a good way to meet up with people and I think doing a physical activity is really helpful.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that people won’t already know?

I’ve started learning Arabic. I really want to understand the meaning of what I see written down and hopefully learn more about the culture and beliefs of other people. It’s been a challenge so far.

Gile Berrisford Quote2