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'Reaching out to new mums is a clever move'

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At the launch of the Institute of Health Visiting last week, Professor Viv Bennett, Department of Health director of nursing, talked about how “daunted but excited” she felt at venturing out as a fledgling health visitor. “You know what I needed?” she asked the audience. “An institute.”

I suspect many health visitors feel the same way. Those who are being encouraged into the profession by the government’s Health Visitor Implementation Plan will need some support once they get into post. When the training is over, the learning doesn’t stop, and having somewhere to turn to for advice, support or just confirmation that you are doing the right thing can be invaluable to clinicians - especially those working in the community, where the teams can be much smaller and you may often work alone.

The institute’s main purpose is to provide a virtual community that will enable health visitors to share best practice. Its focus will be to create an evidence base to back up what the profession has always known - that high-quality interventions from pregnancy onwards have an enormous impact on child and family health.

Working with Netmums, the Institute of Health Visiting will be able to embed public health advice in the pages of a website that influences consumers

What’s impressive about the iHV is that it has steered clear of being only about professionals for professionals - though offering expertise and connecting health visitors is at the heart of what it will do. It has also worked with to discover what’s important to new families and to publicise and promote its work.

This will enable the profession to engage with the new mums and families, who will be better able to understand the health visitor’s role and therefore work with them effectively. And I’d go so far as to say it’s a stroke of genius to involve Netmums director Sally Russell as chair of the iHV, ensuring that PR opportunities are never more than a call away, but more importantly than that, providing a route to embedding the iHV’s public health advice in the pages of a website that directly influences consumers to follow its guidance.

The iHV’s first public health campaign is to reduce sleep deprivation. Working with Netmums and the media, it aims to help health visitors support parents to get decent quality sleep instead of accepting sleeplessness as an inevitable fact of life (see page 6).

Health professionals have to find new ways of influencing lifestyle change to bring about benefits, making sure their impact is felt even by those who won’t attend clinics to seek advice but who will search for support online. Good luck to the iHV as it sets out on its journey to educate the public, not just about their own health but about the significant contribution that health visitors make to it.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

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