A new model for delivering nurse-led support to vulnerable young mothers could be effectively rolled out across England, an evaluation of pilot sites has ruled.
However, while mothers felt supported by the new family nurse model, caseloads forced practitioners to work 20% more than their contracted hours, the assessment found.
The Family Nurse Partnership Programme is designed to target first-time mothers, aged between 20 and 24, who have never been in employment, have no qualifications, or currently have no support from their baby’s father.
There are 10 pilot sites – in areas including Manchester and Tower Hamlets in east London – that were set up in 2007 in order to deal with social exclusion and based on a successful 30-year-old US model.
The government has already announced that the number of pilot sites is to increase to 30, as reported by NT in November.
Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, and the Institute of Children Families and Social Issues, carried out a government-commissioned study on the first 12 months of the programme.
Family nurses, who include former health visitors and midwives, valued the programme but found the work ‘demanding and the workload heavy with significant levels of overtime’, the evaluation found.
The 56 family nurses were working almost seven hours a week each in overtime to cope with caseloads of 25. Nurses raised concerns over paperwork and regional salary variations but some also claimed ‘it was the best job they had ever had’.
Overall the study concluded the programme could be effectively delivered across England, though problems were noted on the recruitment and retention of mothers to the pilot schemes.
Cheryll Adams, Unite/CPHVA lead professional officer, said: ‘We are encouraged by the findings but it is not right they [family nurses] are working to what equates to an extra two months per year.
‘If the government decides to invest in it long term, it seems like it will create job satisfaction and have positive results for some of the most vulnerable clients,’ she added.
A randomised controlled trial of the programme, commissioned by the Department of Health, will begin next year to assess the programme’s impact on young mothers and their children.
A research team is currently being appointed.