A month ago the government launched a review into the role of health visiting for families with very young children. The current legislation which requires mandatory health checks to be carried out for all families comes to an end in March 2017. Options put forward to government ministers include renewing the mandatory requirement, amending the number of visits provided, or scrapping the requirement altogether. Cheryll Adams who was a health visitor in Hampshire for almost 20 years and championed the causes of vulnerable families, promoting emotional and social health in isolated communities and even spent some of her weekends running community drives to improve child safety. She is now the Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting and in a recent interview explained that health visitors can have a “major impact” on children in their first two years of life, and without the mandated checks, families may not get the preventative health services they need, which could result in more children having safeguarding needs. She argues that the mandatory nature of checks needs to be extended in order to protect the service and pick up on early problems within the families of young children. Several people I know work closely with health visitors and believe passionately that Cheryll Adams is right in what she says. The cost of preventative work and monitoring is almost always lower than waiting for problems to emerge at a later stage. However the families in greatest need of support are not always well placed to know how to respond to such reviews and the health visitors themselves are clearly seen to have a vested interest in a positive outcome from this assessment. The way the review is taking place is that a letter has now been sent to all health visiting commissioners and professional leaders by Public Health England chief nurse Viv Bennett and Phil Norrey, children and families spokesman for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, calling for views on the future of the visits.
Clearly these people who commission such services are under enormous pressure to find savings, and in the short term reducing preventative work can sometimes seem like an easy target for cuts. It is vital that we all do what we can to persuade our elected representatives to support a positive outcome from this review for the sake of the families in our vicinity as well as for the public purse. There are strong arguments for this service to be extended at a time when families are under greater pressure than ever due to the impact of benefit cuts and low wages through zero hour contracts and other factors.