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A window into health visitors’ work with homeless families: Making the invisible visible

23rd September 2021

Yesterday, saw the launch of the national campaign #TurnOffTheTaps , calling for investment into health visiting to rebuild the service in England following years of cuts. Despite health visitors’ best efforts, these cuts have left families without the support they need. One of the reasons that health visiting is ‘low hanging fruit’ for budget cuts, is that many people say that they don’t really understand who health visitors are, and what they do.

How could we expect them to know the breadth of health visitors’ vital work when they don’t get to see most of it? 

Whilst all families will have a health visitor, many families will receive what is called the ‘universal’ service – however, that is only a very tiny part of the health visitor’s role.

Health visitors are a vital part of the health workforce, providing an infrastructure of support for physical health, mental health and social needs, for babies, young children and families. They work with families at the best of times, but also the worst of times when life takes its unexpected twists and turns that are no respecter of background. In recent years, we have seen widening inequalities and deteriorating child health, and the demand for health visiting support has increased.

Today, with the help of Kirsty McDonagh, Specialist Health Visitor for Homeless Families, Homeless Families Health Visiting Team (Camden), we want to provide a window into the world of health visitors’ work with homeless families. This 15-minute film, presented yesterday at the iHV Evidence-based Practice Conference 2021 – Looking ahead to a fairer future, describes Kirsty’s experiences of working during the pandemic and the realities faced by countless homeless families.

In this short film, Kirsty describes her role and tells the story of Eve, a young child with multiple complex needs, living with her mother in a Home Office hotel without any health support for four months. The suffering and misery that Eve faced during this time is shocking to hear – fortunately this changed when Kirsty and her team visited. What followed provides a powerful example of the Specialist Community Public Health Nursing skills of the health visitor ‘in action’, supporting not only Eve to get the urgent clinical support that she needed, but also to drive change in national policy to improve outcomes for many more homeless families.

Kirsteen McDonagh, Specialist Health Visitor for Homeless Families in Camden Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust

Well done Kirsty, you are a fantastic ambassador for the health visiting profession!

#TurnOffTheTaps Campaign needs you

Join the campaign #TurnOffTheTaps – it’s time to invest in health visiting. Make sure all families get the specialist help from a health visitor that they need, when they need it.