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Health visitor role in prevention laid out to local councils

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Local authorities have been advised of the important role health visitors have to play in preventative healthcare, as councils take on responsibility for commissioning health services for children aged nought to five.

The Institute of Health Visiting has issued a briefing document for local government officials highlighting that financial savings can be made from taking preventative steps against poor health.

The support and supervision of health visitors is key to the quality of professional relationships, judgement and decision-making”

IHV briefing document

It also refers to NHS England’s plan for the service up to 2020 – the Five Year Forward View – which emphasises the “radical upgrade” required in prevention to ensure the “future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS and the economic prosperity of Britain”.

“Support and supervision, including a restorative function” for health visitors was highlighted by the IHV as being “key to the quality of professional relationships, judgement and decision-making” of the workforce.

The organisation pointed to the need for the overall shape of the early years service – and not just specific interventions – to be formed from evidence-based practice and programmes.

It went on to describe the current evidence-based service models used by health visitors, such as the Healthy Child Programme which includes the five checks that must be carried out for each child before they reach the age of two and a half.

The briefing said the health visitor workforce was fundamental to ensuring early intervention before children reach the age of two, because it has “universal reach” by “initiating unsolicited home visits as well as open-access clinics”.

The distinction between this part of the health workforce and midwives was also noted by the institute.

“Health visitors are highly trained health professionals who complement the midwifery service by working across the antenatal service continuum encompassing hospital, primary care (GPs) and community services,” stated the briefing document.

”The revitalised health visitor service and full implementation of the Healthy Child Programme includes a mandated antenatal visit establishing the basis for the transition to parenthood,” it added.

“[Health visitors have] universal reach [by] initiating unsolicited home visits as well as open-access clinics”

IHV briefing document

The document also noted the workforce’s important role in safeguarding, referring to research by Public Health England which showed “home visiting is effective in preventing escalation of risk for vulnerable children”.

In April 2013, commissioning responsibility for the majority of public health services transferred from NHS organisations to local government, apart from those covering health visiting.

Concerns have been raised over the past few months that the additional money councils will receive for health visiting could be used to plug gaps in other parts of their stretched budgets when £200m cuts are made to public health budgets next year.

Results from a government consultation on how to implement the cuts are yet to be published.


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