16th December 2021
Yesterday, Sarah Olney MP (Lib Dem: Richmond Park) published an open letter written by a group of MPs to Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, expressing serious concerns about the safeguarding risks posed by the ongoing virtual delivery of the health visiting mandated reviews.
At the start of the pandemic, the Government issued guidance that the health visiting service should be delivered as ‘virtual by default’ as part of the wider Emergency Preparedness Resilience and Response plan which categorised health visiting as a ‘partial stop’ service. This led to the scaling back of health visiting support and the redeployment of up to 63% of health visitors in the first wave of the pandemic. The Healthy Child Programme was never intended to be delivered virtually but this pragmatic decision was taken by officials on the grounds that it was ‘better than nothing’ and reduced the transmission of COVID.
Over the last 21 months, numerous concerns have been flagged by hundreds of organisations working with children and families, as well as published research, about the negative secondary impacts of the pandemic on families with babies and young children, with calls for the full reinstatement of the health visiting service. Whilst virtual contacts have provided a welcomed means to reach families, and have been found to be beneficial for providing quick advice or support between the mandated assessment contacts, there is no evidence that they are safe or effective for identifying risk factors, or for universal assessments of child health and wellbeing.
Sarah’s letter recommends that,
“It should not become ‘business as usual’ to conduct the five mandated health and development checks virtually, without evidence that this is a safe and effective method.”
“We know that the earliest years of life are a time of heightened vulnerability. Government data shows that 275 children, aged 5 and under, died or were seriously harmed due to abuse or neglect in England in 2020-21. One of these cases was 16-month-old Star Hobson who died in September 2020, after suffering a catalogue of abuse at the hands of her mother and her partner.”
“To prevent more tragic deaths, we ask that you urgently invest in the health visiting service, as the frontline ‘eyes and ears’ for vulnerable children. Health visitors are well placed to see every child before they start school and a well-resourced service can identify families’ needs and risks, and deliver appropriate support.”
We thank Sarah Olney MP and her fellow parliamentarians for their support for this clear statement for investment to reinstate health visiting services to ensure that all families are offered face-to-face support.
Read Sarah Olney MP letter to the Rt Hon. Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care here.
You can also read a blog by Alison Morton, iHV Executive Director published in March 2021 on considerations for virtual contacts in health visiting here.