Parents are still not accessing the level of face-to-face support needed from health visitors because a lack of resources and funding, MPs and children’s charities have warned.
At a House of Commons debate yesterday, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney said the Government’s decision last month not to increase the public health grant in real terms has left local authorities unable to increase face-to-face visits from health visitors.
‘It is of the most urgent importance that we restore face-to-face health visiting to every new mother as the most essential building block of support to families,’ she added.
And although Ms Olney welcomed the Government’s £82m investment in introducing family hubs to 75 local authorities across England and £50m, she said ‘more information is needed’ on what the hubs can provide including around health visiting and mental health support.
The warning comes as a report published yesterday from three infant’s charities – the Parent-Infant Foundation, Home-Start UK and Best Beginnings – also raised concerns that parents of young children are still struggling to access in-person support.
The UK-wide survey of 11 mothers, alongside 224 professionals and volunteers, in October this year found 30% say health visitor drop-in clinics are no longer operating in their area, 28% say health visitor appointments are still remote, and 12% say baby and toddler groups are no longer running in their area.
The report concluded that ‘national support for health visiting services to recommence face-to-face delivery would be hugely valuable’. It added: ‘While local services remain under-resourced health visiting services will struggle to reinstate a fuller service that meets families’ needs.’
Also speaking at the Commons debate yesterday, Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom acknowledged that health visitor caseloads ‘can be very heavy’ because of workforce issues.
‘Parents and carers have told us that they really want more continuity of care and more frequent contact in the earliest years,’ she added. But she pointed to £10m announced in the budget that would help some local authorities develop ‘mixed-skill’ teams to support health visitors.
The latest NHS Digital data shows health visitor numbers dropped by 35% from 10,212 in December 2015 to 6,653 at the same time last year.
Conservative MP Miriam Cates said: ‘Lockdowns have been so, so damaging for the youngest in society, in all those areas we have heard about: lack of access to professional services, to community support and even to family support, which has really harmed the very youngest in our society.
‘The £500m funding comes at a crucial time. I have to say it: it is time to build back better for babies. So there is no better investment for the Government to make than on the first 1,001 days.’