A new £265,000 study led by the University of Stirling is seeking to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected health visiting services across the UK, with a view to improving them in the future.

The 18-month project – funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) – will explore the changes that health visiting has experienced over the past two years and provide recommendations to enhance organisation and delivery as part of a strong post-pandemic recovery.

The project is led by Dr Erica Gadsby, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health from Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and also involves researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Kent.

Alison Morton, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said:

“Congratulations to the team, led by the University of Stirling, which has been awarded this prestigious NIHR funding.

“The last two years have been a period of tumultuous change, with health visiting services facing significant challenges in their efforts to support babies, young children and families. Health visitors responded rapidly with service innovations, but many of these adaptations have not been tested in the health visiting context and their impacts are largely unknown.

“This much-needed realist review will help us to gain a greater understanding of the pandemic response in order to learn lessons that can be applied to future emergencies, as well as strengthening the evidence base to support the embedding of new innovations and ways of working.”

The pandemic caused enormous pressure and disruption to child health services, as well as to families and young children, but it also prompted some important innovations in service delivery. The new study will explore how the pandemic affected health visiting services in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, with a view to understanding how the organisation and delivery of services can be improved for a stronger post-pandemic recovery.

The researchers will undertake a ‘realist review’, which is a type of theory-driven review of evidence. They will pull together different forms of information related to what has happened in health visiting services since March 2020 and use that to explore how the pandemic has affected services, service providers and families.

The team includes realist review, health visiting and public health experts, as well as a patient and public involvement lead. A stakeholder group – comprising practitioners, commissioners, policymakers, policy advocates, and members of the public – will advise and provide feedback throughout the project.

The team will work closely with the Institute of Health Visiting and the stakeholder group to ensure the findings of the study are developed into a range of outputs suitable for the various stakeholders and disseminated to the appropriate audience.

Dr Gadsby is supported on the project, Realist Review: Health Visiting in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic Experience (RReHOPE), by Professor Kendall; Dr Geoff Wong and Ms Claire Duddy (both of the University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences); and Mrs Madeline Bell (expert by experience).

Exciting and unique opportunity with the Institute of Health Visiting

Research Associate

Based in Kent, Essex  or London

Applications are invited for a Research Associate at the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) for a fixed term period of ten months. The post is available from early March, following successful appointment. The research is funded by Health Education England (HEE) working across Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Applications are invited from highly motivated researchers with an interest in public health, doctor-patient communication, behaviour change, implementation science and/or health services research to join the iHV as a research associate. The post holder will join the research team to work on the, “Improving the delivery of different news study 2”. This study follows the feasibility study which was completed in 2019. It is an applied research study involving both families and Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) to establish best practices for delivering different news to families. “Different news” describes the process of imparting information relating to an unborn child or a newborn having a condition associated with a learning disability. This mixed-methods study aims to expand on the findings of the feasibility study and to develop, deliver and evaluate a training intervention to improve the process of delivering different news to families. The post holder, who will have a doctorate relevant to requirements of the post, will be based in Kent or Essex and will be prepared to travel within their post.

Applications close: 9.00 am on Thursday 20 February 2020 

Interviews:  Monday 2 March 2020 

Start date: ideally early March 2020

Research published today by the University of Newcastle shows that the BabyClear programme, implemented in the north east of England to reduce smoking during pregnancy, has been very successful.

Pregnant women are almost twice as likely to quit smoking if they are supported from their first midwife appointment – and then are more likely to have heavier, healthier babies.  Newcastle University researchers evaluated the “BabyClear” programme which follows the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance around smoking in pregnancy by screening all pregnant women for smoking using carbon monoxide monitoring.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, executive director, iHV, said:

“It is excellent that the pilot BabyClear programme in the North East has been so effective in helping women to stop smoking, yet there is more work to be done.  Using this approach across the whole country, we can significantly reduce the number of pregnant women who smoke and, as a result, reduce perinatal mortality and morbidity – so giving more children a better start in life.”

The implementation of the BabyClear programme in the North East was supported by SFAC and Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group members Fresh North East.