The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) has co-signed an open letter calling on the Government to rebuild the health visiting service and improve access to mental health services for new parents.
Spearheaded by the NSPCC, the letter said that under-resourced health visiting services were leading to a ‘postcode lottery’ of access to support, with the risk that new parents experiencing mental health problems were being overlooked because of the service’s ‘rapid deterioration’.
It said: ‘Health visitors play a vital role in identifying parents experiencing mental health problems and providing or arranging for support. But the health visiting workforce in England is at an all-time low and there are not enough health visitors to meet the level of need.
‘Many families are not receiving the five health visiting reviews they are entitled to, or these vital checks are being delivered remotely, which makes it harder for professionals to identify perinatal mental health problems.’
Further to the letter, parents and professionals presented health secretary Sajid Javid with a petition in Westminster today, signed by almost 22,000 people across England. The #FairStart petition urged Javid to improve access to mental health support for the one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers who experience perinatal mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year after birth, as well as invest more in family help.
NSPCC analysis of Public Health England data found that in 2021, one in five babies in England did not receive their 12-month health visiting review, with more than 106,000 babies missing out. Since 2016, there has been a 10% decrease in the proportion of babies receiving this check.
The iHV said the health visiting service provided a ‘vital infrastructure’ of support for families, addressing numerous cross-government department priorities for health, education and lifelong wellbeing, but as this was ‘poorly understood’, the service was at high risk of cuts.
Since 2015, when responsibility for health visiting was transferred to local authorities, it is estimated that at least 30% of the health visiting workforce has been lost, with further losses forecast.
Alison Morton, executive director of the iHV, told Nursing in Practice earlier this month that the call for more health visitors ‘continued to fall on deaf ears’, and said the Government was not doing enough to solve the shortage of health visitors, who are not included in the target for 50,000 more nurses.