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Health visiting study seeks to learn lessons from pandemic

1st June 2022

A new £265,000 study led by the University of Stirling is seeking to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected health visiting services across the UK, with a view to improving them in the future.

The 18-month project – funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) – will explore the changes that health visiting has experienced over the past two years and provide recommendations to enhance organisation and delivery as part of a strong post-pandemic recovery.

The project is led by Dr Erica Gadsby, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health from Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and also involves researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Kent.

Alison Morton, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said:

“Congratulations to the team, led by the University of Stirling, which has been awarded this prestigious NIHR funding.

“The last two years have been a period of tumultuous change, with health visiting services facing significant challenges in their efforts to support babies, young children and families. Health visitors responded rapidly with service innovations, but many of these adaptations have not been tested in the health visiting context and their impacts are largely unknown.

“This much-needed realist review will help us to gain a greater understanding of the pandemic response in order to learn lessons that can be applied to future emergencies, as well as strengthening the evidence base to support the embedding of new innovations and ways of working.”

The pandemic caused enormous pressure and disruption to child health services, as well as to families and young children, but it also prompted some important innovations in service delivery. The new study will explore how the pandemic affected health visiting services in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, with a view to understanding how the organisation and delivery of services can be improved for a stronger post-pandemic recovery.

The researchers will undertake a ‘realist review’, which is a type of theory-driven review of evidence. They will pull together different forms of information related to what has happened in health visiting services since March 2020 and use that to explore how the pandemic has affected services, service providers and families.

The team includes realist review, health visiting and public health experts, as well as a patient and public involvement lead. A stakeholder group – comprising practitioners, commissioners, policymakers, policy advocates, and members of the public – will advise and provide feedback throughout the project.

The team will work closely with the Institute of Health Visiting and the stakeholder group to ensure the findings of the study are developed into a range of outputs suitable for the various stakeholders and disseminated to the appropriate audience.

Dr Gadsby is supported on the project, Realist Review: Health Visiting in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic Experience (RReHOPE), by Professor Kendall; Dr Geoff Wong and Ms Claire Duddy (both of the University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences); and Mrs Madeline Bell (expert by experience).