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Minister unveils new resources to help boost 'early years' health

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Two new guidance packages targeted at nurses working with children and families have been launched by the Department of Health.

The packages comprise six early years “high impact areas”, which have been developed for healthcare practitioners, and 70 public health fact sheets for practitioners and parents.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter launched the “two distinct guidance packages” last month at a national public health nursing conference in Birmingham.

In regard to the high impact actions, Dr Poulter said the government had focused on six topics where the “evidence shows early years healthcare professionals can make a measurable difference”.

The six early years high impact areas are:

  1. Transition to parenthood and the early weeks
  2. Maternal mental health (post natal depression)
  3. Breast feeding (initiation and duration)
  4. Obesity to include nutrition and physical activity
  5. Managing minor illness and reducing accidents (reducing hospital attendance/admissions)
  6. Health and wellbeing at 2 (development of the child two year old review/integrated review) and support to be ‘ready for school’.

Meanwhile, he said the 70information sheets have been developed by the Institute of Health Visiting and reflected the most frequently raised topics on the popular parenting website Netmums.  

“They support parents and practitioners and are built around both research and the knowledge and experiential learning of professionals,” he said.  

Health minister

Dan Poulter

Announcing the two sets of new tools, Dr Poulter said it was “essential to support practitioners” in developing services for local families, and “to respond to the public’s wish for information”.

He used his speech to focus in particular on “early intervention”, and especially the key role of midwives and health visitors. “A good start in life and positive parenting are fundamental to lifelong resilience to adversity,” Dr Poulter said. 

“It’s important to recognise the joint contribution of midwives and health visitors around the preparation for parenthood and the early weeks,” he said. “It’s a special time for families.”

For older children, Dr Poulter warned that over a fifth of five-year-olds were now overweight or obese.  “Here, health visitors and school nurses are key,” he said.

“A good start in life and positive parenting are fundamental to lifelong resilience to adversity”

Dan Poulter

Dr Poulter also called on nurses to help “champion” improving the public’s health in general. But he added: “We are in no doubt that these are complex and challenging times.”

The minister acknowledged it was “vital” for investment in the current and future workforce so it had the “capacity and capability” to achieve the necessary improvements in the population’s health.

“Staff will need to be skilled to work in a whole range of settings and working in and with communities’ right across the life course,” he said. “We continue to work with Health Education England to build the workforce.”

Dr Poulter admitted that the government needed to “be on top” of planning for future midwife needs, noting that around 40% of the current workforce were due to retire in the next five years.

“We’ve made a commitment to ensure that the number of midwives in training is matched to the birth rate,” he said. “This is now happening and there are over 6,000 more midwives in training to qualify over the next three years.”

Meanwhile, he said the health visitor workforce has “seen unprecedented growth” of 2,310 staff since May 2010 and in March this year there were 10,402 whole time equivalents in post. 

However, the government’s own target set in February 2011 is to expand the workforce by an extra 4,200 whole time equivalent health visitors by April 2015, which it has admitted will be challenging.

In addition, Dr Poulter highlighted the introduction the community nursing strategy to “ensure an adequate supply of highly skilled general practice nurses and district nurses”.

To help with this, he said Health Education England had created 400 extra district nurse and 200 practice nurse places.

He also said practice and community nurses would be among 10,000 healthcare professionals trained to deliver the Proactive Care Programme to older patients by 2020.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • There may have been an increase in 'Health Visitor Workforce', but how many of those are actually qualified health visitors? I am also rather unimpressed by having 400 extra district nursing places, considering the large number of patients that are undergoing day surgery at the present time. More patients than ever are being cared for in the home because there are no hospital beds for them, so we still have a situation where a qualified district nurse is reserved only for the very sick or very complex cases .

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