As part of a series of podcasts on the first 1001 days of life, Alison Morton, speaks to Dame Andrea Leadsom DBE on the importance of health visiting. Published today, this podcast was recorded in 2021 following the announcement of the government’s investment in the ‘Start for Life’ vision.

Alison Morton, iHV Executive Director, says:

“The iHV is a non-political charity working with all parties to raise the profile of the first 1001 days and the vital support that health visitors provide to families. With such a weight of evidence to support investment in the earliest years of life, it was good to be able to celebrate some investment in the Start for Life vision with Dame Andrea Leadsom on this podcast. This represents a significant shift in policy direction for babies, young children and families, and recognition of the importance of laying strong foundations for health and wellbeing in the earliest years.

“There is still so much more that needs to be done to translate the Start for Life Vision into reality – we look forward to this work being built upon by the new government. In particular, to translate this vision into reality for all children, much-needed investment in workforce will be needed to end the current postcode lottery of support for families and bring stability to the health visiting profession. We look forward to working with the government on next steps.”


The Institute of Health Visiting welcomes today’s launch of the findings from the Government’s Early Years Review – The Best Start for Life: A Vision for the 1,001 Critical Days.

The Review has been led by Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP and sets out a vision for best practice across the health system for the first 1,001 days of life. We are particularly encouraged by their clear statement of intent that babies and children in England will get a better start in life… with reducing inequalities.

Leading child health experts have provided evidence to the Review team (including members of the team at the Institute of Health Visiting, as well as health visitors in practice). Overwhelmingly, the evidence is clear that the care given during the first 1001 critical days has more influence on a child’s future than at any other time in their life.

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

The Chairman of the Early Years Healthy Development Review, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, said:

“When we started work on the Review, I was clear that the needs of the baby must be at the heart of everything we do. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more pressure on already struggling families and, just as we need to level up economic opportunity across the country, we need to level up the support and care for the very youngest.

“The 6 Action Areas will have a transformational impact on our society, and I am looking forward to the implementation phase of the Review where we will continue to work closely with families and the early years sector.  I am confident that delivering this Vision will help millions of families to give their baby the very best start for life.”

The review highlights six action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children:

  • Seamless support for families: Local authorities will be encouraged to publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area – a single publication making parents and carers aware of what support they can expect in their local area, including services they should expect to receive like health visits, and localised and specialist services, such as help to quit smoking and intensive parenting support.
  • A welcoming hub for families: This builds on the Government’s commitment to champion Family Hubs, making them a place for families to access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training.
  • The information families need when they need it: Designing digital, virtual and telephone services around the needs of the family, including digitising the Personal Child Health Record, commonly known as the ‘Red Book’. This will apply to every new birth from April 2023, bringing it forward a year.
  • An empowered Start for Life workforce: Developing a modern skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of families with babies. There will also be work to attract people into health visiting and ensure that health visitors are developed and supported.
  • Continually improving the Start for Life offer: Health services for families and babies must improve data, evaluation, and outcomes to ensure it is meeting a family’s needs. Work will continue across the system to hold local services to account, including through proportionate inspections, giving parents and carers confidence and assurance services are working in their area.
  • Leadership for change: Work will begin to encourage local areas to nominate a leader and to ensure the delivery of the review is overseen at a national level.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Founding Director iHV, commented:

“I am thrilled to see the launch of this very timely and important Review, and have been honoured to be an advisor to it.  Implementation of the Review’s Action Areas will offer every family greatly improved access to a range of sources of support, as and when they need them.  By being baby centric, it will also help to ensure that every baby can have access to the Best Start for Life.”

Alison Morton, Acting Executive Director  iHV, said:

“I welcome the clear commitment within this review to reduce inequalities and ensure that every baby achieves their full potential – this is an ambition shared by health visitors and lies at the core of our profession. I thank Andrea Leadsom MP and her team for setting out this important first step that provides a solid foundation on which to build the strategy and plan, with much-needed investment, that will be required to turn these ambitions into a reality. There is no time to waste, against a backdrop of increasing vulnerability facing many families, I look forward to working with the Review Team on the implementation phase.”


Preliminary insights of the Early Years Healthy Development Review were outlined by Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP at the APPG on Conception to age two meeting, held on Tuesday 19 January 2021

At the online APPG, the First 1001 Days Movement ‘s Working for Babies: Lockdown lessons from local systems report was formally launched – read our news story on this.

Speaking at the online event, Andrea Leadsom said that the report findings ‘chime totally’ with what the Early Years Healthy Development Review has found.

The F1001D report presented hard-hitting findings about the direct and indirect harm to babies, young children and their families caused by the pandemic during the Spring 2020 lockdown. These “hidden harms” were broad and significant, and experienced unevenly depending on family circumstances and background. The report also highlighted how there are often ‘baby blind-spots’ where babies’ needs are overlooked in policy, planning and funding.

Andrea Leadsom’s Early Years Healthy Development Review, due to be published at the end of February, will look at issues around joining up services; improving the use of digital services to reach parents; data sharing and local leadership.

She told the APPG attendees that evidence is emerging that services for babies have been ‘particularly better’ since the latter part of last year, when second and third lockdowns took place, largely because staff were not moved away as much as they had been in the first lockdown.

The Early Years Healthy Development Review will give six recommendations which, by the time it is launched in February, Andrea Leadsom hopes will gain the approval of all the political parties so that this early years review will be ‘the one that sticks and endures’ for many years to come.

She talked about the possibilities of harnessing the benefits of digital technology to provide consistent and joined-up support to new parents. The use of data-sharing will enable professionals to provide ‘much more focused support on what families need’ and less time will be spent for parents retelling their story to different professionals.

Andrea Leadsom thanked early years professionals for their amazing work during the lockdowns ‘who have done so much to support new families in such difficult period’ and to reassure them that ‘these lessons would be learnt’ and reflected in the Early Years Healthy Development Review.


Today’s welcomed debate in Westminster Hall on the “Provision of healthcare support services in the period between conception and age two”, brought together a united voice of support for investment in the earliest years of life which crossed usual party divisions, based on the indisputable evidence that the first 1,001 days are the most crucial period of human development.

In her opening remarks, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP explained the importance of today’s debate which “Takes place against the backdrop of such a disruptive and damaging year. This year, as ever, it is the very youngest, the very oldest and the most vulnerable in our society who suffer when times are tough.” The vital role of health visitors and their leadership for prevention and early intervention were mentioned on many occasions throughout the debate. Special tribute was paid to Cheryll Adams and the work of the Institute of Health Visiting in championing both of these causes.

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP opens debate on the Provision of healthcare support services in the period between conception and age two

During the debate, Members from across the House brought challenge to the Government with a consensus that cutting the public health grant was the falsest of false economies during times of austerity. The short-sightedness of these measures were summed up in the question, “I’m not sure what the Government thought they were going to save?” and with a wealth of evidence shared on the spiralling costs of late intervention to the whole of society.

In her response, the Minister Jo Churchill MP spoke publicly about the crucial role of health visitors, and midwives stating:

“a good health visitor can change a life, when it comes to moving on. An excellent midwife changed my journey, when I was struggling to feed my children for the first 10 days. Everyone says that those things are easy, but there is nothing easy about it, but after managing to get support people, hopefully, really feel they can fly. That is why it is vital”.

The Minister concluded her remarks by reiterating the Government’s commitment to the principle that:

“Prevention is better than cure. We want to identify and treat problems from the earliest stage and help parents to care for their children, change and improve behaviours, and protect against preventable diseases. We know that if parents and babies are well supported in the vital period from conception to age two, they are set up for a lifetime of better mental and physical health.”

At the Institute of Health Visiting, we would like to extend our sincere thanks to all the Parliamentarians who are championing the cause of babies and young children, and the health visiting service intended to provide a vital “safety-net” for all children. We particularly thank Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP for calling the debate and Tim Loughton MP who was bestowed a new honorary title today as the “Member for health visiting” – we thank them both for their tireless support.

It does feel like the tide is turning for babies and young children – we now await with renewed optimism the outcome of the Early Years Healthy Development review when it reports its findings and action from the Government to make the recommendations a reality.


The Early Years healthy development questionnaire has been extended by one week to help capture a wide range of responses. The new closing date is 11:59pm on Friday 23 October.

The Prime Minister has asked Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP to lead a new review into improving health and development outcomes of babies and young children in England. The time from conception to the age of 2 is a critical time for development and can impact physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout life.

They’d like to hear from recent parents, including those who gave birth during the lockdown and public health response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, about the experiences of care and services you received.

They’d also like to hear from health service professionals, charities, volunteer groups and academics.

They will use your views to check where progress has been made and where more needs to be done in the future both locally and nationally.

The questionnaire has been extended by one week to help capture a wide range of responses. The new closing date is 11:59pm on Friday 23 October.

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP has been asked by the Prime Minister to chair a major new review of early years services on behalf of the Government. The review will look at reducing inequalities in young children from conception to age two and a half, aiming to ensure every baby is given the best possible start in life. It will build on the conclusions from the Inter-Ministerial Group on Early Years Family Support which Andrea chaired whilst Leader of the Commons from 2018-2019.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, commented:

“We are delighted that Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP has been invited to chair a review into the first 1001 days of life and particularly that it will have a special focus on reducing inequalities in childhood. Andrea is ideally place to lead this review, with her longstanding work in this policy area and her commitment to the need for improved investment in the early years . The work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the First 1001 Critical Days has already led to important learning and outcomes, such as the 1001 Critical Days manifesto signed by many cross-government MPs (2014).

“We look forward to working with Andrea on her inquiry and hope very much that this will finally lead to very urgent action to ensure that each and every child born in England is given the best possible start in life. It could not be more timely.”

The review will seek to show how to reduce disparities in low birth weight, social and emotional development in early years, and reduce impacts of vulnerability and adverse childhood experiences in this stage of life. It will also look to understand lessons learnt from COVID-19, including minimising the risks from the pandemic to very young children, and better using technology.


iHV is delighted that Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the House of Commons, has been asked by the Prime Minister to chair a cross-Government working group set up to review how to improve the support available to families in the period around childbirth to the age of two – the first 1001 days.

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom

The cross-Government Ministerial group will seek to identify gaps in available provision and make recommendations on how coordination across Departments can be improved to help give every child the best possible start in life.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, commented:

“This is excellent news for health visiting.  It was Andrea who launched the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto, which has since reached into many other countries. She really understands the importance of infant mental health, and the critical role of the health visitor for supporting all families and especially those who need the most help.  We look forward to working with her moving forwards.”