The health secretary has dismissed arguments over where health visitors should be based as “missing the point”.
Speaking last week at a meeting in the Commons on public health intervention at an early age, Andrew Lansley said he recognised there had been debate over whether health visitors should be based in children’s centre or attached to general practices.
But he said: “I think the argument about are health visitors based in children’s centres or based in general practices is missing the point….It really doesn’t matter.
“The point is they are [in effect] based with families, and they should be connected up with their general practices and children’s centres.”
He added: “Most of the health visitors I talk to are very clear about not only are they linking into children’s centres, but they are linking into general practices as well.”
Mr Lansley said he remained committed to increasing the health visiting workforce to the levels set out in the national health visitor programme published last year, in order to create a “universal” service.
In particular he praised the profession for its effectiveness in helping young mothers access local services, often as their first source for information.
He noted his surprise at how often this process began during pregnancy, following talks earlier this month with health visitors from pilot sites from the national programme.
“Many were very focused on working with mothers during pregnancy. More than I thought would be the case,” he said.
“I thought the focus would be on coming home with baby. But actually they are very focused on if you get the right relationship with mothers – they have the right information, they have the right support during pregnancy – not only do you improve things like nutrition [and] baby’s health during pregnancy, but actually you get the right response when baby comes home.”
Mr Lansley called on the new GP led clinical commissioning groups, which are due to take over control of the bulk of NHS budgets from next April, to use the expertise of health visitors when designing services.
He said: “I’m hoping CCGs will look to the health visitor team in their area as being a source of leadership for building a children’s health outcomes framework.”
The event was organised by Graham Allen, Labour MP for North Nottingham, who plans to launch an Early Intervention Foundation.