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When the Council for the Education and Training of Health Visitors (CETHV) was set up in 1962, it developed a new syllabus and curriculum for preparing health visitors, which included a requirement that students should learn about the ‘principles and practice of health visiting.’ Educators discussed the meaning of that phrase at length, and eventually health visiting tutors decided to hold an investigation into the principles and process of the work. They wanted to clarify the underlying principles of health visiting to inform education, so students could gain the depth of understanding needed to encourage flexibility and adaptation to new circumstances.

The investigation began in 1974, in response to what were described as ‘rapidly changing health and social conditions (leading) to new legislation and new patterns of working and new consumer expectations’ (CETHV1977, page 7), and eventually spanned an eight-year period, involving a large section of the profession.

The results of the investigation provided a framework to organize the knowledge and skills required for health visiting practice.  There was agreement across the profession that health visiting is implemented by using four enduring processes, presented as four ‘process statements,’ which are collectively known as the ‘principles of health visiting.’

These are:

  • The search for health needs
  • The stimulation of an awareness of health needs
  • The influence on policies affecting health
  • The facilitation of health-enhancing activities

There are three things to note about these principles.  They are about health promotion, not assistance; they provide an integrated framework, not a list of competences or skills and they are all underpinned by a particular value and view of health.  Together, they provide a framework that became a touchstone for continuing development, and the term ‘the principles of health visiting’ became shorthand for summarizing the underpinning values, skills and process involved in practice. Following further widespread professional discussion, updated versions of the principles document were published in 1992 and 2006, to demonstrate their continued relevance, application to contemporary health needs and current research.