Council leaders have called for a ‘properly resourced’ plan to encourage closer working between health visitors and other local authority services.
The Institute of Health Visiting has launched a new report which they describe as an ‘evidence-based blue print to rebuild health visiting services’.
Health Visiting in England: A Vision for the Future recommends expanding the health visiting model for England and the Healthy Child Programme to include three additional service ‘review points’.
The report also calls for additional tailored support where needed, aligned to 15 High Impact Areas where health visitors can make the greatest difference to infant, children and family outcomes.
Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, warned that England ‘lags behind other countries on many key health outcomes’. These include infant mortality, breastfeeding, obesity, and immunisation rates.
‘The current status of health visiting is not serving families well, based as it is on universally delivered process outcomes which risk “ticking the box, but missing the point”,’ said Dr Adams.
‘There remains a persistent gap between what the evidence tells us, and the profession aspires to achieve, and what is currently able to be funded and provided since the year on year cuts to public health budgets starting in 2015.’
‘Based on the evidence, we recommend that the universal offer in England includes three additional service “review points”, increasing the offer to eight contacts, with additional tailored support where needed, aligned primarily to fifteen High Impact Areas where health visitors can make the greatest difference to infant, children and family outcomes,’ Dr Adams continued.
‘But also recognising the value of health visiting in, for example, supporting the mother postnatally to manage on-going physical consequences of giving birth, supporting the family of a child who has a chronic and worrying health issue such as asthma, supporting families through a bereavement or working with a people within marginalised groups.’
‘National leadership by government is essential to set ambitious and binding national goals to reduce health inequalities for children in key public health priority areas,’ she added.
‘The health visiting service of the future needs to be built more closely around eight key elements to ensure the service is: evidence-driven, accessible, responsive, personalised, collaborative, fairer and effective. This will only be achieved with greater professional autonomy and a recognition of the importance of relationships at the heart of everything we do.’
The chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, welcomed the report as an ‘important contribution to the debate on the future of health visiting’.
‘Health visitors working in local government play a pivotal role in helping ensure all children get the best possible start in life,’ he said.
‘This report is an important contribution to the debate on the future of health visiting and in our joint efforts to improve the delivery of the Government’s Healthy Child Programme.
‘Closer working between health visitors and other services including housing, social care and early years education encourages healthier lifestyles, builds social and emotional development and reduces health inequalities.’
He added: ‘However, if we are to truly improve our children’s prospects, we need a more joined-up approach across the board, including a properly resourced, sustainable workforce plan to support children’s wellbeing and the Healthy Child Programme.’