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iHV responds to Guardian piece which portrays health visitors as ‘retreating’ during the pandemic

6th December 2021

On Friday 3rd December, Prof. Harry Ferguson, Professor of Social Work at the University of Birmingham, published a response in the Guardian to the outpouring of sadness and anger following the death of young Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: The death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes raises hard questions – we must address them all

Whilst recognising that there are always lessons to be learned, the piece also provides a thorough account of the challenges facing social workers. It was disappointing to see that health visitors were described as ‘retreating’ – this is a misrepresentation of the context in which health visitors have been working. Prof Ferguson writes:

First, especially during the initial lockdown, social workers were often the only professionals visiting children and going into family homes on a regular basis. Health visitors, early help and therapeutic services that normally support young children and parents retreated from homes and either went online or stopped altogether.

The Institute of Health Visiting’s Chair, Pamela Goldberg OBE wrote to the Guardian over the weekend, to put the record straight. 

Health visitors across the UK did not stop, and they won’t stop. Many factors have contributed to the stark reality that some families have not received the support that they needed:

  • Health visiting services in England entered the pandemic in an already depleted state with a national workforce shortage of around 5,000 health visitors.
  • In March 2020, the health visiting service was categorised as a ‘partial stop’ service, with guidance that scaled back visits should be ‘virtual by default’ in the national pandemic response plan.
  • As a result, up to 63% of health visitors were redeployed in some areas, leaving those remaining with large and unmanageable caseloads at a time when families’ needs increased due to the secondary impacts of the pandemic.
  • Those remaining carried huge burdens in a service already under-resourced. As always, the service to families was the priority. The letter signposted the editor to case studies of the work that health visitors had been doing, hidden from sight but reaching thousands and thousands of families every week often facing the most challenging circumstances. This case study might give you an idea of the lengths to which health visitors went:  https://ihv.org.uk/news-and-views/voices/so-what-did-health-visitors-do-in-the-pandemic-we-didnt-stop-we-wont-stop/
  • Read the ‘State of Health Visiting in England 2021: we need more health visitors‘ for an accurate portrayal of the challenges faced by the profession which families face the brunt of.
  • It is also worth noting that less than one month into the pandemic response, in April 2020, more than 40 leading charities, including the Institute of Health Visiting wrote to the Government calling for action to keep babies and children safe: https://ihv.org.uk/news-and-views/news/charities-call-on-government-to-take-urgent-action-to-keep-babies-safe/

Read extracts from our Chair’s letter, published as a ‘Guardian Opinion’ today: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/dec/05/safeguarding-children-needs-proper-resources