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Charities call for investment in health visiting

10th November 2021

In support of yesterday’s publication of the second babies in lockdown report  which calls for investment in health visiting, we are delighted to share a Voices blog from Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Communications at the Parent-Infant Foundation and Coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement.

woman's head, smiling

Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Communications at the Parent-Infant Foundation and Coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement.

As charities that exist to support families during pregnancy and in the earliest years of a child’s life, Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and the Parent-Infant Foundation have been working together to highlight the impact of the pandemic on babies, their families and the services that work with them.

We all know the amazing impact that health visitors can have on families’ wellbeing and babies’ outcomes. As part of the First 1001 Days Movement, we’ve been shining a spotlight on the underinvestment in health visiting services. Along with 700 other charities, including the Institute of Health Visiting, we called on the Government to invest in health visiting in the Spending Review.

Yesterday, we launched a new report, exploring the continued impact of COVID-19 on babies. The report is based on in-depth studies with 11 families, a survey of professionals and a review of the literature.

The report shows that, far from “building back better”, many services are struggling to provide the support that families need – and that professionals want to provide.

In our survey of professionals and volunteers working with families across the UK:

  • 30% say health visitor drop-in clinics are no longer operating in their area.
  • 28% say health visitor appointments are still remote via telephone or online in their area.

Parents told us how this left them feeling unsupported and alone:

“…But as a first-time mom in a pandemic with no other support, how would I know if something was going wrong? …”

“We’ve not seen anyone, we had a zoom call at the 12 month checkup. Of all my friends, I was the only one that actually got a video call which was shocking. They didn’t even get a phone call.”

“…when you’re ringing health visitors, and they can’t actually see your child, it’s really difficult…”

Whilst remote contacts have some benefits, in the report, we summarise concerns from professionals, academics and parents about how the universal delivery of services in this way limits the ability of professionals to assess babies’ development and wellbeing, and to form the relationships required to support families effectively.

Despite health visitors’ best efforts, with many going over and above to support families, we know that health visiting services across the country are struggling because of long-standing disinvestment. We call on the UK Government to invest in health visiting services so that health visitors can go back to offering the high-quality face-to-face service that many families want and depend on.

The report points out that the Government’s Spending Review stated that it “maintains the Public Health Grant in real terms, enabling local authorities across the country to continue delivering frontline services like child health visits”. In fact, the Government is maintaining the Public Health Grant at a level that is too low for many local authorities to resource health visiting services that can deliver what is set out in the Healthy Child Programme and other national guidance. We were pleased that this point was also made by MPs debating this issue in Parliament yesterday.

The Government states that health visitors’ numbers and caseloads are a locally determined decision. However, this does not absolve them of responsibility. In the report we argue that national Government must take action – alongside resourcing local authorities to deliver these services – to support and challenge commissioners so that all families across the country, wherever they live, receive the care they want and need.

We will continue to amplify parents’ voices and shine a spotlight on gaps in policy and investment in health visiting. Every baby should have the best possible start in life, and health visitors make a vital contribution to making that a reality.

Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Communications at the Parent-Infant Foundation and Coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement.