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Labour pledges to mandate additional visit by health visitors

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Labour has pledged to introduce an extra mandatory home visit by health visitors while children are aged three to four months, if the party comes into power.

The policy commitment was unveiled today by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who was speaking at a conference on breastfeeding held at the Royal Society of Public Health in London.

“It will be my commitment to work with health visitors to implement an additional mandated health visit”

Jonathan Ashworth

He said Labour would put an extra £25m into health visiting services to fund the pledge, paid for from the party’s National Child Health Fund, which was announced during the last general election.

The Labour announcement comes on the back of new analysis – also unveiled today by Mr Ashworth – showing council funding for 0-5 children’s public health services will suffer a £52.2m real terms cut between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Meanwhile, latest NHS Digital figures show there has been a 20% drop in the number of health visitors in just over two years. Labour highlighted that there were 8,244 full-time equivalent health visitors working in the NHS as of December last year – the lowest number since August 2013.

“Our ambition is to create the conditions for the healthiest children in the world”

Jonathan Ashworth

As a result, health visiting had reached “a critical juncture”, said Mr Ashworth at the event, which was hosted by the Institute of Health Visiting and World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative.

“We must do better in England where families generally receive the lowest level of universal health visiting support, when compared to the other UK nations, both in numbers and quality of universal contacts received,” he said.

“As health Secretary, it will be my commitment to work with health visitors to implement an additional mandated health visit at three to four months backed up by an extra £25m of investment from our National Child Health Fund,” he said.

“Children are 20% of our population but 100% of our future. So our ambition is to create the conditions for the healthiest children in the world,” he added.

Labour maintained the impact of cuts on health visitor numbers had led to “huge variations in outcomes for children across the country”.

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Jonathan Ashworth

The party flagged up the most recent figures on mandatory health checks for young children, which indicate that many are missing some of the core five.

Nationally, 12% of babies missed out on a new birth visit in the most recent period but there were regional variations with that figure, rising to 17% in the South West of England.

Meanwhile, 17% of babies missed their 6-8 weeks review – although that was a third in London – and 25% did not get their one-year review by the age of 12 months – 44% in London.

While 90% of children received a 2.5 years check in the North East, that was just 64% in London and 73% in the East of England.

Mr Ashworth also outlined a number of related policies that would be introduced under a future Labour government, including plans to bring back the Infant Feeding Survey, which gathered data on breastfeeding rates but was discontinued under the coalition government.

He also pledged to ensure all maternity services achieved and maintained UK Unicef baby friendly initiative accreditation, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Increasing the number of health visitors was a key Conservative Party pledge in the run-up to the 2010 election that resulted in the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

The coalition government ultimately just missed its target to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors by the end of March 2015, though community nurse leaders have hailed the rise in staff numbers.

Responding to the new policy commitment from Mr Ashworth, Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “We warmly welcome this announcement from the Labour Party that pledges an additional health visit at three-to-four months.

“Children are the future and any steps that can be taken to give them the best start in life are to be applauded,” said Mr Amadi.

“There has been a serious dip in health visitor numbers recently and investment in restoring the service is vital,” she said. “Prevention in the early years of a child’s life pays great dividends in terms of mental and physical health as the child becomes an adult.”

At the same conference today, new survey results were revealed suggesting that nearly one in three health visitors thought their ability to support breastfeeding mothers has reduced in recent years.

The survey of almost 800 health visitors, carried out by the Institute of Health Visiting, found 28% said their capacity to support new mums with breastfeeding had decreased in the past two years.

Headline health visitor outcome figures for last three months of 2016-17:

 Quarter 4 of 2016-17 (January, February and March)
 

New Birth Visit

8 week review

One year review

2.5 year review

Area

%

%

%

%

England

88%

84%

75%

76%

North East

92%

93%

87%

90%

North West

90%

88%

83%

84%

Yorkshire & Humber

88%

83%

84%

80%

East Midlands

91%

89%

77%

75%

West Midlands

89%

90%

77%

77%

East of England

88%

85%

73%

73%

London

92%

67%

56%

64%

South East

85%

87%

78%

79%

South West

83%

84%

79%

74%

Latest outcomes figures for health visiting services taken from Health visitor service delivery metrics 2016 to 2017

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