The majority of health visitors have reported seeing an increase in postnatal depression among new mothers in recent years, but many say they lack sufficient time to provide mental health assessments.
Around two-thirds (68%) of health visitors have seen an increase in postnatal depression over the last two years, according to the Institute of Health Visiting’s State of Health Visiting Survey 2015.
“Commissioners must now make sure that health visitors have the time to provide perinatal mental health assessments”
In addition, 25% of health visitors said they could not provide every family with a postnatal mental health assessment at six to eight weeks, and 75% could not do so at three to four months the – the schedule recommended by the government.
Meanwhile, 81% of survey respondents said they had seen an increase in domestic violence and 69% an increase in poverty over the two years.
The new findings, published in the institute’s annual report, are based on the views of 1,413 of its members who completed the survey in November.
They reveal a snapshot of the current demands on health visitors. For example, 33% of health visitors surveyed said they had to share computers and 24% were still paper based.
The survey also suggested 61% of health visitors had caseloads of 400-1,000 children and 39% met the recommended caseload of 300 or less children aged five or under.
The 300 caseload threshold was recommended in March 2010 by Lord Laming in his government-commissioned review into childcare services sparked by the case of Baby P.
In addition, 75% said they worked with refugees or asylum seekers, and 93% worked with families that need interpreters.
The institute said that, despite the recent investment in health visiting by the government, the survey results “make clear” the service remains “under resourced locally to implement this important area of public health”.
The results will be shared with key figures from the world of health visiting and guests at an event hosted by the institute later today.
Dr Cheryll Adams, director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: “The survey feedback is vital in highlighting what is needed to support children, families and communities.”
Health visitors lacking time for mental health support
The annual report did highlight that the institute had trained 573 perinatal mental health “champions”, who were helping drive improvement in the quality of contacts for perinatal mental health, as well as cascading the training.
Dr Adams said: “This project has now delivered perinatal mental health training to over 10,000 health visitors and others across England – an amazing achievement.
“However, commissioners must now make sure that health visitors have the time to provide perinatal mental health assessments at six to eight weeks and again at three to four months, if the training is to have the impact it should,” she added.