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Perinatal Mental Illness debate in Parliament

23rd July 2018

On Thursday last week (19 July), there was a debate on perinatal mental illness in Parliament. It was so encouraging to hear MPs and ministers talking about health visitors.

In an extract from the debate, Dr Paul Williams MP said:

Perhaps a little less well known is the dramatic fall in the number of health visitors. Since 2015, there has been a loss of more than 2,000—almost a 20% drop—so each health visitor has to work harder. I commend health visitors for the work they do but, overall, women are experiencing a drop in services.

He further added:

The disinvestment in health visiting is significant; there can be no solution to the problem while health visiting is not properly resourced.

We are grateful to the Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, for sharing her very positive views on health visiting and the work of the Institute, following her recent visit to Manchester to find out more about health visitors and iHV PIMH Champions.

An extract from the debate – Jackie Doyle-Price MP said:

I want to come back to health visitors. I am a firm believer that health visitors are uniquely placed to identify mothers who are at risk of suffering, or are suffering, perinatal mental health problems and to ensure they get the early support they need. In fact, I visited the Institute of Health Visiting only a couple of weeks ago and heard a moving story from a new mum who had gone through a mental health crisis. It is striking that she had experienced all the feelings we have talked about—she felt there was something wrong with her, she could not bond with her baby, and she got more and more depressed and withdrawn about it. The other interesting thing about that case was that it was dad who felt utterly powerless to do anything. Only their relationship with their health visitor enabled them both to reach out for help.

I am under no illusions about the importance of health visitors. I was privileged to meet so many fantastic advocates for them as part of the NHS’s 70th birthday. They are our eyes and ears in so many ways, and they are our intelligence network in tackling adverse childhood events. I am full of praise for the important job they do in supporting new parents and families through a child’s early years. I am really pleased about the success of the Institute of Health Visiting perinatal and infant mental health champions training programme. Those 570 champions play a crucial role in spreading good practice and early identification of mental health problems.

Some hon. Members raised concerns about the decline in the number of health visitors. There was a substantial increase in the run-up to 2015, and there has been a fall since. I am bothered about that, so I will look at how we can encourage local authorities to alter that situation, recognising that in some areas local leaders have realised that health visitors can do so much more to deliver better outcomes for their communities. Blackpool, for example, has substantially increased the number of visits. I am really looking forward to seeing the outcome of that work, so that we can encourage that good practice in other local authorities.