Health visitors will in future be required to give families advice on relationships, the prime minister has announced, as part of a commitment to make all domestic policies “family friendly”.
David Cameron said the government’s intention was to “re-orientate” health visitors to provide care and support for whole families and not just mothers and babies.
“We are creating new guidance which will help them identify and support families dealing with relationship problems”
Guidance is currently being developed for health visitors on giving relationship advice, he said during a speech on how the government planned to put families at the centre of its new domestic policy.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said: “Health visitors are amazing because when you’re having a baby you want someone who can point you to the advice you need – anything from the nearest crèche, to how to breastfeed.
“It’s right that this support should include relationship advice too,” he said. “So, as promised, we are increasing the number of health visitors by 4,200 and re-orienting them to support not just the mother and child, but the whole family.
“And we are creating new guidance which will help them identify and support families dealing with relationship problems,” he added.
The latest role expansion will bring them closer to that performed by the Family Nurse Partnership programme, where nurses visit young first-time mothers from less-affluent backgrounds.
It could also be viewed as a further trade-off for the government’s commitment to significantly increase health visitor numbers over the last four years.
The government’s Health Visitors Implementation Plan, published in February 2011, committed the government to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors by 2015.
It also set out plans to expand and “rejuvenate” health visiting services. Reforms included providing rapid response with expert help for problems such as postnatal depression or a sleepless baby, and building stronger links with local Sure Start children’s centres.
Prior to the plan, the numbers of health visitors employed in NHS posts had fallen from 10,137 in 2004 to 8,017 in 2010.
“Where families are facing particular difficulties and greater needs, health visitors need very much smaller caseloads”
Responding to Mr Cameron’s speech, the Institute of Health Visiting said it was “delighted” that Mr Cameron had recognised the importance of health visitors in supporting families and family relationships.
However, it called for a government commitment to a maximum ratio of 1:250 health visitors to families in order to deliver the planned reforms.
Institute director Cheryll Adams said: “With the right training and resources in place, health visitors can readily rise to the important challenge of supporting families and parent relationships.”
However, she warned that health visitors would “struggle to embrace” the new relationship advice role, despite the “unprecedented” increase in the number of health visitors in recent years.
“Health visiting needs this expansion to continue at the rate of at least 10% a year to be able to fully deliver this policy,” she said.
“Where families are facing particular difficulties and greater needs, health visitors need very much smaller caseloads,” she added.
Elaine McInnes, the institute’s professional development officer, added: “Protecting our new influx of staff is crucial.”
The commissioning of health visiting services is also due to move from the NHS to local councils in 2015, as part of the government’s policy on public health.
Key documents on health visiting: