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Care backlogs and unmet family needs are on the rise
In the UK, the needs of families with babies and children are increasing, yet backlogs of care and unmet needs in health visiting services have been overlooked in a ‘baby blind spot’ in national policy.
Primary Health Care. 33, 3, 9-9. doi: 10.7748/phc.33.3.9.s3
Published: 30 May 2023
All nurses in the community can take an active role in raising the importance of the first 1001 days and showcasing the value of health visitors (HVs), so the baby blind spot can be addressed and the rapid decline in HVs can be reversed. The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) is doing all that it can to turn the situation around and is working closely with the government and partners.
Babies are the most vulnerable citizens in our society. Recent data show that homicide rates in England and Wales remain the highest for babies under one year than any other age group.
HVs can identify babies in distress when their parents may not have the agency to advocate for them. They are one of the few professionals who visit families in their homes and look out for babies, with a crucial role in preventive public health, early intervention, safeguarding and child protection.
Babies’ brains develop fast during the first years of life and are shaped by the world around them. This period of opportunity and vulnerability becomes the foundation of a child’s lifelong mental and physical health. I have seen how babies are experiencing the brunt of the baby blind spot with a postcode lottery of support. Services that support babies have been scaled back due to lack of funding across the sector. HV services have been impacted by £1 billion of real-term cuts to the public health grant since 2015, alongside fewer HV training places and high attrition rates.
Health visiting in England is facing the biggest workforce challenge in living memory, with an estimated shortfall of 5,000 health visitors.
We know how exceptionally hard HVs are working, but despite their best efforts one in five children in England did not receive their vital health reviews last year. The situation is much worse in some areas, with many families missing out on the support they need.
An iHV survey of 1,323 HVs showed that while they aspire to give every baby the best start in life, the workforce is in crisis. HVs say that the cost-of-living crisis and poverty concern them, with 91% reporting an increase in poverty and food bank use affecting families. Children born into poverty are more likely to experience a range of health problems, including poor nutrition, chronic disease, mental health problems and poor living conditions.
HVs’ front-line intelligence provides an early warning signal of the most pressing risks to the health and well-being of babies and children. HVs see these harms firsthand, long before the information lands as ‘data’ on the government’s desk.
Despite the extreme workforce pressures, many HVs said they still have feelings of professional pride, and they love being a health visitor. Two new films from iHV, Health Visiting in Your Community and Voices from Practice, echo the same sense of pride and passion for the profession.
The work of HVs is valued and they should hold onto their sense of hope and pride. Families need them now more than ever.
» Share the Institute of Health Visiting film Voices from Practice to showcase the vital role of the health visitor in supporting babies, children and families
» Share the Shaping Us film to increase public understanding of the crucial importance of the first five years of a child’s life
» Contact your MP and tell them how babies, children and families are affected by the health visiting shortages in your area