Breastfeeding support in Kent faces change with proposed clinic closure

by My Kent Family reporter

More than 20 mothers and their babies crowded into County Hall to protest against proposed cuts to breastfeeding specialist clinics.

The women, who all breastfeed, turned up to show support for a petition backed by nearly 5,000 people, calling on Kent County Council to protect 13 clinics.

This comes after KCC announced plans to cut its 17 specialist clinics down to four and replace this with 36 weekday drop-in services with breastfeeding peer supporters and health visitors.

Hannah Croft, 33, with Alfred, 2, from Canterbury
Hannah Croft, 33, with Alfred, 2, from Canterbury

The move would see the council save £404,000 a year.

The majority of councillors at the health reform and public health committee on Thursday (February 8) voted to support the plans.

Only Dr Lauren Sullivan, Cllr Trudy Dean and Cllr George Koowaree voted against.

A final decision will be made on March 7.

At the meeting, Cllr Dean was applauded by the public in the chamber for slamming the council for only supporting breastfeeding “in a reluctant way” rather than saying “breast is best”.

“I look forward to a day when I come to a meeting about breastfeeding when county councillors actually wave a flag for breastfeeding in a really convincing way,” she said.

“The benefits to the child and to the parent both in the short term, and in the long term are very, very well documented.

“For the child, it gives them a resistance to infection. There are fewer cases of infantile sudden death, there are fewer cases of obesity and cardiovascular problems in the child.

“Also there’s a possible connect with the speed of learning.

“For the mother, there are long term good effects in terms of fighting cancer, particularly breast cancer.”

Cllr Dean also claimed the rate of breastfeeding in the UK was lower than any other country in the world and she shared her worries the proposal would see underqualified professionals tackling this problem.

She said: “I’m not familiar with the qualifications in this area of work but it’s clear from the comments of the petitioners that they consider the proposed set of qualifications, a basic one.”

Breastfeeding peer supporter Laura Mockford, 32, from Keep Kent Breastfeeding attended the meeting with her 16-week-old daughter Juliet.

She said she was angry the council “were not listening to their concerns”.

“None of our questions have been answered," she said.

“We still don’t know anything. We don’t know where these groups are going to be and really what the support is.

“They keep laying out how many hours they are going to give us but what do these hours provide?

“We would also like to know what a peer support lactation consultant is. I am a peer support, we have a passion for breastfeeding but that doesn’t make us lactation consultants and specialists.

“We are there to support mothers and so many people are going to slip through the net. “

Natasha Woodthorpe, 26, with Charlie, 23 months, on her back with Laura Mockford and Juliet, 16 weeks
Natasha Woodthorpe, 26, with Charlie, 23 months, on her back with Laura Mockford and Juliet, 16 weeks

In a statement, KCC said health visitors have received further training to become specialist community public health nurses that “makes them fully qualified to undertake this important work”.

The statement also included a reassurance from the council that peer support roles will continue under the supervision of health visitors but this is dependent on the amount of volunteers the come forward.

It also added that young mothers and users of the services were approached as part of a consultation launched last July but was paused a month later after complaints that the information was not clear.

It was then relaunched last October for six weeks.

Cabinet member in charge of public health, Cllr Peter Oakford, told the mothers at the meeting that after their feedback changes have been made to the original plans and he will continue to consult members of the public.

Cllr Oakford said: “It’s very clear, to stay where we are is not a position that we can do - the status quo is not an answer.

“We have low breastfeeding rates in comparison to the rest of the United Kingdom.

“We still have far too many mothers smoking at the time of delivery and we all know the problems that brings.

“We’ve had two waves of consultation, we’ve had numerous emails.

“We’ve had lots of questions and lots of points have been raised and we have changed what we were planning to do based on the feedback from members of the public, from young mums through the consultation process.

“We will continue to do that. If there’s any more feedback that comes in, and based on some of the comments that have been made today, until the final decision has to be made on March 7.

“No decision has been made. We still have to do some fine tuning.”

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