An increase in health visitor numbers expected in Scotland over the next three years has been highlighted as having the potential to play a key role in tackling health inequalities among young children.
A recent Scottish Government report found the gap in health between those from poorer and those from wealthier backgrounds was narrowing but that more could be done to reduce it further.
“The enhanced health visitor service that is being introduced across Scotland in the near future has the potential to make an important contribution to tackling inequalities”
Scottish Government report
The report looked at the main findings from the Growing Up in Scotland study, which tracked two groups of children – those born in 2004-05 and in 2010-11 – over a decade, and compared health outcomes at age 10 months and three years old.
It found that breastfeeding rates had improved the most among mothers from less wealthy backgrounds, from 37% to 45%. Breastfeeding for more affluent children had a slight increase, from 80% to 81%.
The gap between more affluent and less wealthy mothers reporting good mental wellbeing when their child was aged three almost closed, due to improvements in the latter group.
Meanwhile, the proportion of women from poorer backgrounds who did not drink alcohol during pregnancy improved from 63% to 66%, while the proportion of those from wealthier families who abstained from alcohol jumped from 81% to 89%.
But the report – called Tackling Inequalities in the Early Years – said there was still a “great deal of improvement” to be made in children’s health in Scotland.
It noted the 10-year study had found satisfaction with health visitors was high – more than 80% of families said they were good at providing helpful advice – particularly among those families from less wealthy backgrounds.
Health visitors and their role in providing one-to-one advice and support to parents should be “central” to tackling inequalities in the early years, said the report.
It referred to the Scottish Government’s £40m commitment to create an additional 500 health visitors between 2014 and 2018.
“The enhanced health visitor service that is being introduced across Scotland in the near future has the potential to make an important contribution to tackling inequalities in the early years,” it said.