The NSPCC has found that only 6% of mothers could recall seeing the same health professional in the health reviews that take place during pregnancy and up to their child turning one, according to a recent YouGov poll.
The survey of over 2,000 mothers with children aged one to three in England revealed that as well as nearly a quarter seeing a new person each time, 23% in the South West had a letter, phone call or text message instead of a face-to-face visit. Mothers were asked about their experience of the first four health reviews that take place during pregnancy and up to their child’s first birthday.
Worryingly, despite a maternal mental health check-in being a requirement at each review[i,41% of South West mums said their health professional didn’t establish a relationship where they could share concerns about their wellbeing. And 21% of mothers in the region reported rarely being asked about their mental health.
Led by health visitors, all families in England are legally entitled to receive five check-ins from qualified health professionals via the Healthy Child Programme. This starts during pregnancy and continues at regular intervals until their child reaches two and a half.
Cuts of 15% to the public health budget, however, have raised concerns that health visitors are not able to provide families across the country with the support they need. This coupled with a 31% decline in NHS health visitors has led to an increase of caseloads for those still in the profession that is well above the recommended 250 safe limit.
With perinatal mental health problems affecting up to one in five mothers and up to one in 10 fathers, the NSPCC believes that families must be supported by a consistent health visitor. This continuity of care is vital to enable parents to open up about any worries and for early signs and symptoms of mental health concerns to be spotted and supported.
In 2019 the Government announced it was going to modernise the Healthy Child Programme to ensure it meets the needs of families. Ahead of the upcoming budget and spending review, the NSPCC’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign is urging the Government to invest in the public health grant so mums and babies get the care they need.
Natalie, a mother from Nottinghamshire said:
“During and after my first two pregnancies my mental health suffered desperately. All my health visitors were lovely but by necessity, they had to rush.
“The focus was all on the baby, which I do understand but if a health visitor doesn’t get to know you, it’s hard for them to tell when you’re not yourself. With my youngest, I was older and I felt more prepared, but I still wanted someone to talk to, especially about how I felt. It can be such a lonely time.”
Andrew Fellowes, Public Affairs Manager at the NSPCC said:
“We know that when parents experience poor mental health, as well as this having a detrimental impact on them it can seriously affect their child’s development too.
“The Healthy Child Programme provides a vital opportunity to pick up on perinatal mental health problems early and provide the necessary support for the whole family, but successive cuts to the public health grant mean local areas are struggling to provide the care they know people need. An investment of £700m in services for children under four will ensure every area of England is able to provide the standard of public health service all families are entitled to. This is essential if we are to guarantee mental health problems don’t slip under the radar.”
The NSPCC’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign has been supported by Jo Malone London which also funds direct services to new and prospective parents, focusing 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 thousands who have already raised their voice and signed the Fight for a Fair Start petition.