16th June 2015
This normally never happens to me, but as a consequence of local re-organisation, I had been asked to attend a meeting on behalf of our clinical lead, as had our service director for the same reasons. Therefore, I just happened to be next to the director when the call came in – the Secretary of State for Health the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt had requested to accompany a health visitor for a “new birth visit” next week!
Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust is nothing if not geographically huge (over 80 miles north to south) and, as Infant Feeding Lead working towards BFI accreditation and CPT, I am familiar with all the diverse areas as well as all the staff. Like a lot of Trusts we have many newly-qualified Health Visitors, all of whom I had been involved with during their training. We had to pick a health visitor who could portray everything that is good about health visiting, was working on the day in question and had a new birth visit planned for that day.
Again, right time, right place, a newly-qualified, but exceptionally competent and politically-aware health visitor was available. When I first approached her, she did have a family in mind that could fit the profile, but at that stage the baby wasn’t even born.
The other quirky element to the story was that this health visitor does all her visits on a bike. We were discouraged from offering the Health Secretary a ride on her cross bar but gave a lovely illustration of “health enhancing activities”.
I therefore was assigned the role of chauffeur, which allowed me to have a 15 minute conversation with the Secretary of State while driving him to the family’s home.
My day started at the car wash. It was one of those glorious summer days when the sun shone, and everybody was cheerful.
The Health Secretary arrived from visiting a neighbouring Trust in the morning, (where he watched an open heart surgery operation), just freshly out of “scrubs”. He was greeted by our senior management team and had requested a round table discussion with frontline staff.
He wanted to know what was working well, but seemed equally interested in what wasn’t working so well. Given his background in IT (Wikipedia is such a useful tool) I opened the discussion about different IT systems not being compatible with one another. My HV colleague pointed out that in all Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) communication is an overriding theme. If different health professionals could communicate electronically with each other, then patients could be better served, and more cheaply. End of life care, the 111 service and the growth in the local population also came up.
My colleague and I then had an interview with his press officer. He wanted to know what we liked about the job; how a typical day panned out and an example of something unusual happening. Lucy, my colleague, was able to outline a normal day but of course that is the beauty of health visiting, there is never a normal day.
As any Infant Feeding Lead will tell you, my typical day would always include an element of audit, staff training and supporting health visiting teams help women to breastfeed.
I then drove the Health Secretary to the family home, accompanied by his Private Secretary. Lucy also came in the car, just in case she fell off her bike and didn’t arrive to the family home on time. He asked me about childhood obesity, a gift for an Infant Feeding Lead, and about other Public Health issues for children. We spoke about the Healthy Start scheme, and I did comment on how useful it was that we were now allowed to sell “Healthy Start” vitamins.
He then spent an hour with the family and Lucy, observing her carry out a slightly early new birth visit. Lucy tells me that he asked pertinent questions including about their experiences in the maternity hospital and seemed genuinely interested in their responses.
I was then able to speak to his Private Secretary while we waited in the car (I offered to take her for a coffee but she was anxious to stay close, just in case she needed to extract him early for urgent matters of State). I found out that this was the Secretary of State’s first visit to a community trust, but he tries to visit one area of the NHS every other week. She confirmed that he likes the visits to be very low key, meeting front line staff away from the cameras, to really understand the consequences of decisions made in Whitehall.
I spoke about the 4-5-6 model of Health Visiting, the 1001 days Manifesto, Infant Mental Health and the impact locally of CFA. I did give her three very brief reports about these issues – a little light reading for the train.
We later heard that the Department of Health visits team described the day as an “amazing success”. I would describe my colleague as “amazing”. It was great to get the opportunity to speak to the Secretary of State direct, and I was genuinely surprised about how approachable he was, and how receptive he was to listen to front line staff.
As he left, the paternal grandmother arrived home on her bike. I then had a deja-vu moment. I realised why the house was familiar. I had been the health visitor for her family 20 years ago, supporting this grandmother with her new family in the same way as my newly-qualified colleague now takes up the baton, for the next generation. I feel confident and secure in the knowledge that health visiting has been both revised and revived to support the generations to come. I trust the Secretary of State feels the same way.
Bridget Halnan, Fellow iHV, MSt, H/V, CPT
Infant Feeding Lead, Prescribing Lead for Health Visiting, Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust