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Working together for change

4th September 2023

We are delighted to share this Voices blog by Sarah Cartner, Health Visitor at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, as she shares her experiences of being a member of the iHV Health Visitor Advisory Forum (HVAF).

Sarah Cartner at the Houses of Parliament

Way back in 2021, the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) sent out an invitation for applications to be part of a newly developed Health Visitor Advisory Forum (HVAF) – a team of health visitors throughout the UK coming together to work collaboratively to share best practice, new ideas and innovations and bring insight into current health visiting practice nationally. At the time, I was a newly qualified health visitor within Newcastle and came from a direct entry midwifery background.

I commenced my SCPHN training in January 2020 – not an ideal time, knowing what we know now with covid hitting 2 months later! The training was gruelling, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, however it also allowed me the opportunity to truly appreciate how beneficial health visiting is to families – providing advice, support and education at a time when the world itself was upside down and new parents were struggling with isolation.

I am very passionate about maternity care and have always been truly proud to tell people I am a midwife and now I am just as proud to tell people I’m a health visitor – the difficulty lies in raising the profile of health visiting within society as most respond with ‘what’s a health visitor?’.

I applied to be a member of the HVAF as I am a strong believer in collaboration with other services and feel very passionate about bringing health visiting to the forefront of the public’s mind – education for all ages (and professionals) about what the role entails and how our practice can improve health outcomes and reduce health inequality and disparities.

The HVAF team meet quarterly via MS Teams, and we share practice and discuss current issues within the field. I truly look forward to these meetings – I enjoy engaging and networking with other members and hearing about their experiences and suggestions for improvements – and I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re excited to finally start arranging our first face-to-face meeting for early 2024!

Throughout the year, members receive requests for support or expert experience in reviewing documents or recommendations for practice. As a member of the HVAF, I have participated in reviewing publications for future good practice points and also in an ‘Ask a Health Visitor’ online event in collaboration with BBC Tiny Happy People on Instagram allowing parents and families to ask any questions about development, weaning, feeding or any concerns they might have. This was a great arena to provide evidence-based information and signpost to websites or potential services which may assist the family.

Most recently I was invited to represent health visiting by attending a roundtable event at the House of Lords in Westminster with the Committee on the Integration of Primary and Community Care – sharing first-hand experience of integration within the health and care services. The event was attended by people from a wide range of disciplines throughout the country to share practice and suggestions for improvements to better service user experiences. The aim of the meeting was to help the committee make the most effective recommendations to HM Government in their final report on health care integration.

The meeting I attended lasted a couple of hours, separated into small groups with multi disciplines. We discussed each service’s main concerns and issues, as well as expectations or needs to improve future care and services to our clients. I grabbed this opportunity with both hands (and feet!) and knew I was not leaving without really flying the flag for health visiting.

As we all know, the first 1001 days of life are critical for lifelong health and wellbeing. As health visitors, working with all families, we are ideally placed to provide public health care and education, support parental health literacy and best use of health services, emotional support, safeguarding and early identification of child development concerns or signs of undiagnosed health conditions. Currently we have a shortage of 5000 health visitors – this has meant that we aren’t always able to deliver the Healthy Child Programme as expected, leaving some families without the support they require – something no health visitor wants or enjoys!

I wanted to make sure the group and committee members I was working with that day left with an improved understanding of the role of the health visitor and how prioritising funding within health visiting services can improve everyone’s experience and enable all areas to deliver the Healthy Child Programme in full. This is aimed at improving outcomes for babies, children and families in regard to development, healthy weight, smoking cessation, perinatal and infant mental health, and sexual health, to name a few. Health visitors also have a key role in providing targeted and specialist support when additional needs are identified and connecting families to other services where this is needed. I highlighted how investment into health visiting is part of the solution for improving community services and improving outcomes for babies and children. This has the potential to accrue many benefits to other community and acute services.

We know that early intervention can reduce the risk of adverse childhood experiences and the lifelong effect these can have on health – therefore potentially reducing co-morbidities and social disparity in later life – in turn having an effect on reducing the cost to government and the taxpayer – it’s a ‘win win’ and something we really need everyone to get behind!

The committee members at the House of Lords were so welcoming and appreciative of each service sharing their experience and suggestions and I look forward to reading the report when it is released in November. I felt positive that with continued improved joined-up working, and getting the message out there, we can continue to chip away at the barriers we face within public health and the health visiting service. I look forward to continuing the valuable work we do within the iHV HVAF.

Sarah Cartner, Health Visitor, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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