According to the NSPCC Coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions mean many women have had to give birth alone and new parents have been cut off from their support network of family and friends.
This makes health visitors more important than ever. But the pandemic has also meant restrictions to the service and redeployment of health visitors, meaning many families are left without health visits.
Since April, the NSPCC’s helpline has received 1,897 contacts from adults concerned about parental mental health, with over half being serious enough to be referred for further support. The monthly average number of contacts post-lockdown has increased by over a third compared to our monthly average for January to March
Dr Cheryll Adams, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting said:
“Over the past five years we have seen an average 30% reduction in the number of health visitors in England, accompanied by a massive variation in these losses across the country. The average health visitor caseload is now 500 children, double the recommended number.
The number of invisible vulnerable babies will have increased and perinatal mental illness is already reported by health visitors to be ‘sky rocketing’.
The whole population will also be paying the price – the erosion of the health visitor role results in kicking the can down the road where the impact is picked up by other much more costly services. We urge the Government to listen to the voices of parents, charities and health professionals now and take urgent action to reinstate a robust health visiting service before even more damage is done.”
Public Health England must prioritise giving every child a fair start in life
The NSPCC are urging government to recognise this as a timely opportunity to rebuild the nation’s public health services for children and families.
Led by health visitors, all families in England are entitled to receive five check-ins from qualified health visitors via the Healthy Child Programme.
However, research we conducted with over 2,000 mothers in England with YouGov prior to the pandemic found only 6% had been supported by the same health professional throughout the perinatal period. 1 in 4 mothers had reviews conducted via letter, text message, or a phone call instead of face-to-face support.
Public Health England recently announced that health visitors should not be redeployed over the winter. But research by UCL has found that in some areas of England, as many as 50% of staff were redeployed during the first phase of the pandemic.