NSPCC Fight For A Fair Start campaign investigates health visiting services during coronavirus pandemic

Families in Kent are being urged to join a campaign putting pressure on the government to 'rebuild' health visiting services.

The NSPCC and a coalition of early years charities claim the government is 'at risk of failing babies and new parents' because the health visiting programme is not equipped to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The NSPCC and 2000 charities want health visiting services rebuilt and all visits reinstated
The NSPCC and 2000 charities want health visiting services rebuilt and all visits reinstated

The charity is urging people in Kent to sign the Fight for a Fair Start campaign which is calling on the Government to make sure all new parents receive the mental health support they need.

The NSPCC says its helpline received 1,897 calls about parental mental health concerns in the past six months with over half requiring referral for further support. When compared to the average number of calls for January to March, these figures have risen by 34%.

And as England enters a second national lockdown the organisation has issues a stark warning about the risks it perceives of failing a 'generation of babies' born during 2020.

Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, Local Campaigns Manager for the South East at the NSPCC said: "Without the right support, perinatal mental health problems, and difficulties in the parent-infant relationship can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for both children and families.

“We want to be very clear that the Government is at risk of failing a generation of children if it does not commit to rebuilding the nation’s public health services for families. Before the pandemic began the health visiting service was struggling to support parents and babies across the country, and we know it is not equipped to meet the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic."

In an open letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, the NSPCC say that England’s health visiting programme requires further investment including more training for staff to identify mental health problems, better access to support services and regular face-to-face meetings with health visitors for families.

Calls to the NSPCC about parental mental health have risen during the pandemic
Calls to the NSPCC about parental mental health have risen during the pandemic

Covid-19 restrictions have meant many woman have either had to endure the majority of labour by themselves or have given birth alone whilst new parents have been cut off from their support network of family and friends making, says the charity, regular visits from professionals more crucial than ever.

The NSPCC says the redeployment of health visitors to other sectors has resulted in many families not receiving their entitled health visits.

According to the Babies in Lockdown report, produced by Best Beginnings, Home Start UK and Parent-Infant Foundation, just 1 in 10 parents with children under two saw a health visitor face-to-face during the first phase of the pandemic.

Public Health England has recently announced that health visitors should not be redeployed over the winter, but research by UCL found that in some areas of England, as many as 50% of staff were redeployed during the first outbreak.

Coronavirus has meant some health visits were cancelled as staff were deployed elsewhere in the NHS
Coronavirus has meant some health visits were cancelled as staff were deployed elsewhere in the NHS

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."

To learn more about the campaign please visit www.nspcc.org.uk/support-us/campaigns/fight-for-a-fair-start

For more family-related news from across Kent please visit www.mykentfamily.co.uk

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