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New parents ‘missing out’ on health visits due to staff shortages

Around one in four families in England are not receiving mandated health visits when their baby turns one because of a decline in the number of health visitors, the NSPCC has warned.   

The Government has promised new parents a minimum of five face-to-face visits from a qualified health professional – but the NSPCC says falling staff numbers are having an impact.  

Just one in two families receive a health visit one year from birth in London, while 38% of parents nationwide do not receive antenatal visits, the children’s charity found.

It warned that up to one in five mothers and one in 10 dads are affected by perinatal health problems, meaning that health visits are vital to quickly identifying any issues.   

Health visitors numbers in the NHS dropped by 26% nationwide between 2015 and 2019, resulting in almost half of remaining staff working with caseloads of more than 400 children each.   

The Institute of Health Visiting recommends a maximum of one health visitor to 250 children to deliver a safe service. 

The NSPCC has now launched the ‘Fight for a Fair Start’ a campaign, which is calling for appropriate investment from the NHS in specialist community care teams.   

It is urging the Government to ensure all new parents receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits from the same health visitor. 

NSPCC head of policy and public affairs Almudena Lara said that a decline in staff numbers and rising family caseloads mean health visitors are working under ‘significant pressure’.   

She continued: ‘It’s vitally important that all families receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits undertaken by a consistent health visitor to ensure any mental health problems they might be experiencing are picked up on as early as possible so they can be signposted for more specialist support.’  

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We know what happens in childhood can have an impact well into later life. Every child is eligible to see a health visitor, and we are working to modernise the Healthy Child Programme to give better access to parents.’  

The Health Child programme currently says that all families in England should receive five home visits from qualified health professionals between pregnancy and when the child reaches two and a half.   

In comparison, Scotland offers 11 visits, Wales offers nine and Northern Ireland offers seven.   

In June, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) supported the Institute of Health Visiting in calling on the Government to reverse cuts to the health visiting workforce in England. 

Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the RCM, said that the health visitor workforce was 'suffering a serious shortage'.

She continued: 'In order to ensure that there is proper oversight of health visitor recruitment and to encourage joined-up workforce planning across the maternity and early years workforce, it is imperative that responsibility for the health visitor workforce is returned to the NHS and that adequate funding is made available to tackle the shortages of midwives and health visitors.'