An article in Care Appointments reports on a poll of 1,200 Health Visitors in England which reveals an over-stretched service and concerns that tragedies could occur because vulnerable children may not be identified until it is too late.
It was found that less qualified, non-registered practitioners were being used in some areas to conduct child health and development checks, so that Health Visitors could concentrate on working with children already identified as vulnerable. Another undesirable practice of providing early contacts over the phone had also arisen. Forty-three percent of the respondents to the survey reported being so stretched that they feared a tragedy could occur.
The survey puts into dramatic focus the effects of the continuing cuts to public health budgets in England, resulting in the loss of about 25% of the health visiting workforce during the past three years, with another round of cuts due in 2019/20.
Health visiting, which is conducted by qualified nurses and midwives who have also gained an additional health visiting qualification, has a long and distinguished tradition in Britain, dating back to the late nineteenth century. Child health and development checks, carried out by Health Visitors, play a vital role in child safeguarding and protection, often providing the kind of early warning which otherwise would not be available. Not infrequently the Health Visitor is the only professional in regular contact with families with small children.
Not funding health visiting properly is a false economy. It is self-evident that early intervention, before serious neglect or abuse occurs, is preferable to late intervention. And the more we understand about the impact of early abuse and neglect on a child’s subsequent development, the more we understand that not providing effective health support and advice services to young families - and health monitoring of children during the early years - is as foolish as it is penny-pinching.