More than one in five families across the South West of England are missing out on vital health visits as their baby reaches their first birthday, increasing the risk of parents’ mental health issues going undetected.
Data from Public Health England for 2017/18 has revealed that 77.5 per cent of 12-month reviews are carried out in the region by the time the child turns one. The total across England is 75.6 per cent.
The number of parents not seeing a health visitor when their child is 12-months vary across the South West of England as detailed in Public Health England figures.
The transfer of budgetary responsibility for health visiting services from the NHS to local authority public health in 2015 has coincided with a significant reduction in the public health budget and workforce numbers.
There has been a 26% fall in health visitors employed by the NHS operating nationwide between 2015 and 2019[ii], with almost half of those still in the service working with caseloads of more than 400 children each.
The Institute of Health Visiting recommends a maximum of one health visitor to every 250 children to ensure a safe service is delivered.
In response, the NSPCC is launching a national campaign ‘Fight for a Fair Start’ and is calling on the Government to ensure all parents receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits undertaken by a consistent health visitor.
Perinatal mental health problems affect up to one in five mothers and up to one in 10 dads[iv], making it vitally important that all local areas can provide families with a consistent, high-quality service that helps to quickly identify any issues.
Mental health problems for parents during the first year of their child’s life can make it difficult for them to look after and bond with their baby, potentially affecting the child’s overall development.
In England, all families should receive five home visits from qualified health professionals via the Healthy Child Programme, starting during pregnancy and continuing at regular intervals until their child reaches two and a half.
At present, England offers limited service in comparison to Scotland which offers 11 visits, Wales which offers nine and Northern Ireland which offers seven.
The Health and Social Care Committee has recently recommended that as part of a refresh of the Healthy Child Programme, the Government sets out proposals for increasing the number of routine visits.
Once a problem is identified it is vitally important that parents receive the care they need. The ‘Fight for a Fair Start’ campaign is also calling for appropriate investment from the NHS to ensure all specialist community care teams are supported to deliver the gold standard in care, so families get the support they need no matter where they live.
NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Almudena Lara, said:
“Health visitors are uniquely well-placed to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties, but with a decline in staff numbers and rising family caseloads, they are working under significant pressure.
“It’s vitally important that all families receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits undertaken by a consistent health visitor to ensure any mental health problems they might be experiencing are picked up on as early as possible so they can be signposted for more specialist support.”
Mum Kirsty Harvey said:
“I was terrified when I first became pregnant. I learnt to manage my mental well-being as an adult, with the help of medication but when I found out I was pregnant my anxiety kind of ramped up a gear.
“It is crucial that you don’t have to have that awful scenario of having to explain your case again, each time you see a health visitor. It is really difficult to ask for help in the first instance but especially if you have to repeat that over and over again.”
The campaign has been supported by Jo Malone London, which also funds direct services to new and prospective parents, focussing on supporting parents with their mental health problems to help them develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.
The NSPCC is inviting people to join the campaign by raising their voice and signing the Fight for a Fair Start petition.