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'Finally the spotlight is on health visiting'


Not all nurses wear uniforms you know, someone told me in response to my editor’s view a couple of weeks ago about many geniuses in the NHS coming in a nurse’s uniform.

Of course, I know that’s true, and I hope all those nurses doing phenomenal jobs but in civilian clothing realise I was speaking metaphorically. It’s the nursing mentality that brings about the inspiration behind the innovations I was writing about, rather than the piece of fabric being worn.

The point being made by my critic was that nurses outside of uniforms sometimes feel invisible. One branch of the profession that probably feels like it’s been donning a cloak of invisibility over the years is health visiting. Well, it’s been invisible for the most part, until things go wrong, and then those in the profession have probably wished they had a cloak that really could make them undetectable to the naked eye - or at least to the media.

Health visitors have been shrinking in number, and in a bid to attract more people to the role, the government has taken steps that include making it easier to train and become qualified (see news, page 5 and opinion, page 7).

Health visitors have a special insight into patients’ lives, their socioeconomic situations, homes and family set-ups and so have enormous knowledge of and influence over lifestyles that will affect the public’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. As such, the government is right to treat them as a precious commodity that can be our first defence against preventable conditions and diseases that cost the NHS billions every year. Widening their role and their autonomy, as the government proposes, will pay dividends in terms of public health savings.

Given the right rewards and support, health visiting could be an extremely challenging but exciting career path. But sadly, it’s often portrayed as a downtrodden profession that’s cruel and unforgiving. It’s not just the job and access to it that needs to change - it’s everyone’s attitudes to the role.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Health Visitors have been prevented in undertaking the role they were trained for, particularly the public health side. They have been downgraded over the years. There has been little effective post qualification training and no career path.......

    Easy way to get more HVs = pay band 7, after all it is a specialist practice qualification.

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  • I am quite a recently qualified Health Visitor (having qualified nearly 3 years ago) that has decided to step back and leave the profession for the moment. I stopped work just before xmas as the role that I trained for, is not the role I was being asked to undertake, and as such I felt that I was being asked to undertake the role of a "glorified Social Worker" as apposed to Health Visitor. I love the job that I was trained to perform, which should have included births, development checks and the running of the weekly baby clinics. I also had a number of mums who suffered from postnatal depression that I know I made a difference in their lives (because they and their relatives thanked me for the support) I also assisted a large number of mums continue to breastfeed longer and more sucsessfully than they would have done. In my final post all the management wanted us to perform were the initial birth visit and basically child protection!! EPDS visits were to be performed by RGN's (though as we had none at our clinic that job still fell to us) As a consequence I began to feel de-skilled when called upon (rarely) to use my skills in assessment as if you dont use them you loose them! Please, please can we return to the Health Visiting that I knew and loved (and so did the lovely folk on netmums!) and I will return like a shot back to a profession I worked so very hard to become a part of. Am I the only one who wants to return to hands on instead of management?

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  • I trained many years ago. I worked as a Health Visitor and then held two different specialist posts. I left Health Visiting for a while, and recently returned to find a very limited role confined, as my colleague says, to child protection and an adjunct to Social Workers. Now, Health visiting skills have been downgraded to being delivered in part by nursery nurses and community staff nurses because this is a cheaper service.
    Cheaper does not mean better. No doubt there is a place for skill mix, but it does significantly threaten the original premise of Health Visiting. If one has the opportunity to make a good relationship with a family immediately after the birth of a child, then that family will usually maintain that contact.

    Obama is creating "Family Nurses", built from the bones of a Health Visiting service, yet the UK does not appreciate the role and responsibilities that it is so keen to eliminate.

    Somehow, I think that Health Visiting is going. Some HV's have done the service no good at all, and others see no place for it in this modern world. That is very sad. There is a place for our skills, there are families who benefit from them and welcome the support that can be offered.

    Unfortunately there have been so many cuts and service reductions that it may be too late to reverse the dammage.

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