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Royal Foundation recognises health visiting’s ‘unsung heroes’

9th December 2021

Yesterday six very special people, nominated by the Institute of Health Visiting, were recognised for their incredible support for babies, children and families through their work as health visitors and their support for health visiting. By personal invitation from the Duchess of Cambridge, they attended the ‘Together at Christmas’ carol service at Westminster Abbey.

Five of iHV’s nominated ‘unsung heroes’ outside Westminster Abbey

The event was supported by The Royal Foundation, to recognise and celebrate the incredible work of individuals and organisations across the nation who have stepped up to support their communities through the pandemic.

Before the event, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said,

We will be reflecting on the extraordinary challenges we have faced in recent times and celebrating the acts of kindness that we have witnessed across the nation as communities pulled together to help each other

Spearheaded by The Duchess, the service was planned as a celebration of life in our communities, and to illustrate how acts of kindness, empathy and love can nurture and reconnect us. Filmed for broadcast on ITV, the event brought people from across the nation together to reflect on the challenges of the last year, but also to remember the positives: people and organisations pulling together in their communities, the small acts of kindness across different demographics and generations, and the ‘unsung heroes’ who stepped up and went above and beyond to help others.

The Institute of Health Visiting was delighted to be able to nominate six very special individuals who were all very excited to receive a keepsake personal invitation from The Duchess, and in a special envelope franked from Buckingham Palace! No doubt this got the attention of their post-person delivering their mail that day!

All health visitors have ‘gone the extra mile’ this year and the six individuals attending are all so humble about their incredible achievements and collectively said that they were representing ‘all health visitors’ yesterday.


At the iHV we would like to thank each of them for their incredible contributions this year:

Photo of Kirsteen McDonagh who we missed in the group photo in the Abbey

  • Kirsteen Mc Donagh – is a Specialist health visitor for homeless families in Camden, whose work ensures that vulnerable families in hostels and on the streets are able to access the health and care services they need. Kirsteen has gone ‘above and beyond’ this year, advocating on behalf of families, and even taking her concerns to the Home Office in London to ensure that families entering Britain as asylum seekers have their health needs met. If you want to learn more about Kirsteen’s work, you can read her blog here and watch a recording of her speaking about her work here.


  • Leanne Howlett – As a parent who has experienced good quality health visiting care, Leanne has tirelessly sought to raise the profile of health visiting to ensure that all parents, regardless of where they live, have access to the same high-quality care. Leanne founded a peer support charity which provides a ‘voice’ for all parents – Leanne acts as a national spokesperson, generously giving her time and courageously appearing on TV, radio and social media in order to ensure families have support for their mental health and wellbeing. Leanne is an absolute ‘tour de force’ and is an excellent ambassador for families, communities, mental health and health visiting.


  • Lesley Tarling – Lesley is an inspirational frontline health visitor and Clinical Team Leader in Hampshire. During the pandemic, Lesley has supported families experiencing the most challenging times, including families with seriously ill children, parents with mental health problems and those facing resettlement in the UK from Afghanistan. Lesley always puts her families and team first and advocates for them – most notably, Lesley was the health visitor who set up the national petition calling for greater investment in health visiting and the First 1001 days which exceeded its target of 10,000 signatures in just a few months. Lesley’s tireless efforts galvanising support from across the country in a very professional and ‘non-party political’ way, alongside her enduring compassion and kindness shone through, winning hearts and minds across the country.


  • Martha Sercombe – Martha is a specialist health visitor for perinatal and infant mental health working for Cwm Taf University Health Board in Wales. Martha is a ‘champion’ for babies, infant and parental mental health. Martha has used every opportunity to raise the profile of perinatal and infant mental health – and to ensure that this has been seen as a priority during the pandemic. Martha role models the benefits of partnership working – family mental health is complex and no one agency can solve this alone. Martha really does bring everyone alongside and together, with the family at the centre. Martha has stepped up and out of her comfort zone many times during the pandemic, driven by her passion and determination to make a difference for family mental health and wellbeing.


  • Marie Balment – Marie is a specialist health visitor in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Marie has worked tirelessly to advocate for women and their families across Scotland, not only during the pandemic – but for several years, and she has been instrumental in Scotland’s success in developing robust pathways and services that are responsive to families’ needs. Marie has overcome many challenges and shown real patience and tenacity in achieving positive change for families. Marie is an excellent ambassador for the rights of all families to enjoy good mental health.


  • Maura Appleby – Maura is the Principal lead for health visiting in Stockport. Maura epitomises the very best of health visiting. She is an experienced health visitor who has not only driven excellence in the health visiting support for the families of Stockport, she has also supported colleagues from across the country. Maura recognised that families were missing out on support during the pandemic and were struggling on their own – Maura reached out to families and embedded a programme called ICON to help families in Stockport cope with crying babies. Maura has inspired others nationally and her work was shared as a case study film by the Local Government Association.


We are proud of the incredible achievements of all health visitors and the work that they have done supporting families during the pandemic. We are especially delighted that the contributions of these very special individuals have been recognised in this way.

You can watch the carol service which has been filmed for broadcast on ITV at 7:30pm on Christmas Eve.

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