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'Celebrate and build on our work to give children the best start'

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Giving our children and young people the best start in life is vital for individuals, families and, ultimately, society, says Viv Bennett

We know that investment in pregnancy, early childhood and education makes a huge difference to health and opportunities right through life. Nurses and midwives have a key role in supporting families to give children the best start; health visitors and school nurses are leading the Healthy Child Programme (HCP) in local communities, and nurses from all branches are providing evidence-based, compassionate care when children and young people are ill, or have mental health and emotional problems or disabilities.

We know much has been achieved but there is much more to do to address inequalities and improve outcomes to make the best start a reality for all our children. Our Framework for Personalised Care and Population Health provides a menu of facts, evidence and actions to underpin our work, from understanding and acting on the wider determinants of health to making every contact count for wellbeing. It includes a model to maximise our contribution in the vital first 1,001 days and we will shortly launch a model for healthy two- year-olds. These initiatives will help families get information and extra help so children are ready to get the best from education in the earliest days at school.

The evidence that early intervention by health visitors and other health practitioners can significantly improve health and social outcomes is compelling. We have come a long way since the government committed, in 2010, to investing in the health visiting workforce by increasing the number of health visitors and transforming the service they deliver. Families and children nationwide have already benefited enormously from these changes, leading to an improved reach of services, improved access to, and coverage of, the HCP and better experiences for families. It has also enabled health visitors to gain more skills and created national champions in priority areas such as maternal mental health.

The school nursing programme has also made great strides to transform the service, based on the best evidence and listening to parents, children and young people. It has worked with young people to develop health champions and focus on groups such as young carers to improve services.

We want to celebrate and share this excellent work. On 17-21 November, the Department of Health and Public Health England will host their fourth week of action to focus on supporting parents and helping children and young people get the best starpt in life. This focus on protecting and improving health is important for all nurses, not just those with public health roles. During the week, we will share articles, blogs, podcasts, webinars and Twitter chats to hear from those making, and benefiting from, the difference, and to consider the challenges we’ll face in future. I hope you will be able to join us to share, learn and celebrate.

Viv Bennett is director of nursing, Public Health England and Department of Health.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Heather Henry

    I agree with all Professor Bennett says but the fact is that health inequalities are widening and we have to understand why. Recently I have heard the same very disturbing comments from several parents in one of this country's most disadvantaged communities that I feel I should share. Parents say that they feel that they are being judged by health professionals-citing health visitors in particular. They feel preached to rather than listened to.. Their greatest fear is that their children will be taken away from them. As a result they stay away from services.
    I listened to Professor Richard Wilkinson the epidemiologist last week who said that inequality links to stress due to how much people feel judged.
    Have we created too much of a social gradient between ourselves and our patients? Was it better when we were drawn from the communities we served? Do we truly understand the reality of grinding poverty? Is it time to start this debate?

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