17th May 2021
A Voices blog by Professor Viv Bennett CBE, Chief Nurse and Director Maternity and Early Years – Public Health England, on the critical role that health visitors will play in building back better and fairer following the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for many people over the past year. We have faced isolation from loved ones, illness and bereavement, financial uncertainty, and many new and unfamiliar ways of living our day-to-day lives to prevent the spread of the virus. Whilst children are very rarely seriously ill as a direct result of catching Covid, there has been a negative impact on most children and young people from the pandemic and response, in lost learning and on health and wellbeing.
In particular, the pandemic has impacted on children and young people already vulnerable (childhood vulnerability). Some who have a statutory entitlement for care and support, for example, may not have been able to access services in the same way. Other children who are not known to services may have felt the economic and social effects of the pandemic on their family, on their own emotional health and wellbeing, or on their ability to engage in education.
Meanwhile, many thousands of babies have been born during the pandemic. Parents-to-be and new parents have continued to need support and expert advice at this time of major life change: the skill and knowledge of health visitors is vital to support families at this time, especially when contact with their own families is limited and opportunities to meet other new parents is very restricted – leading to isolation, increased anxiety and poor perinatal mental health.
I am immensely proud of the way that health visiting teams have gone above and beyond to provide expert services to families through these difficult times.
Though restrictions are easing, and a more normal life is gradually within our reach, we need to make sure we are well equipped to support families post COVID-19. While the Health Profile for England indicates that overall child health in England has continued to improve, children who live in more deprived areas are more likely to be greater exposed to avoidable risks before birth and get off to a less healthy start once born. The pandemic may have exacerbated existing issues for families, or contributed to new ones, particularly with job losses and ill health, causing further deterioration of existing health inequalities. It’s therefore vital that health visiting teams play a crucial role in supporting these families as we build back better and fairer from the pandemic; and there are many resources to help health visitors achieve this.
The All Our Health e-learning programme features a range of bite-sized sessions that focus on different life stages and priority public health issues. Specifically, for health vising teams there is a session called Best Start in Life which will help health visitors to expand their skills in supporting families while also signposting individuals to other trusted sources of information.
There are also two interactive townscapes on smoking in pregnancy and breastfeeding which offer a place-based approach to the interventions needed to reduce health inequalities and give children the very best start in life.
All Our Health covers a range of public health issues including obesity, mental health, alcohol, screening and immunisations. They aim to improve health and care professionals’ knowledge, confidence and skills in preventing illness, protecting health and promoting wellbeing. Join thousands of health and care professionals, who are using these resources by visiting: https://www.e-lfh.org.uk/programmes/all-our-health/.