Health visitors’ vital roles must be protected

Health visitor Sheila Atalla gets to know one of her newest clients, two-week-old Luke Harrower
Health visitor Sheila Atalla gets to know one of her newest clients, two-week-old Luke Harrower
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New mum Kate Middleton’s decision to spend time with her parents in the first few weeks following her son’s birth on July 22 shows the value of support for young families.

The Duchess of Cambridge may be in a privileged position but she knows the importance of having people around that you can rely on in those early days of looking after a baby.

However, for some young mums that support network from family is not always available, whether through circumstance or choice.

But every baby born in Scotland currently has someone who, although not a relative, has their best interests at heart and will monitor their development until they start school.

Health visitors are an integral cog in the NHS wheel of care, providing much-needed advice and encouragement for parents, particularly those who are finding things tough.

Now the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland with its partners has launched a new campaign to safeguard the country’s health visiting service. It calls for tougher legislation to protect Scotland’s commitment to health visiting and voices concerns the proposed Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill brought forward by the government does not go far enough to defend the service.

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said: “Scotland’s families deserve health visitors. They make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of children, families and local communities across the country.

“That’s why we’ve joined together with our partner organisations in the children’s sector to campaign for stronger legislation that will establish Scotland’s commitment to health visiting.”

Backing the campaign, Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: “We need to invest now in improved health visitor services to ensure that children born today get the services they have a right to expect and we have a responsibility to deliver.”

In the Falkirk Council area there are currently 42 health visitors working in six teams based in health centres in Central Falkirk, Grangemouth, Polmont, Denny/Bonnybridge, Stenhousemuir and Bo’ness.

They currently look after around 10,000 babies and pre-school children, first visiting newborns and their mums between 10-14 days after delivery.

Ruth Astbury is the health visitor team leader in this area and explained that all the staff are qualified nurses with a postgraduate qualification in health visiting.

She said: “Many have had senior roles in nursing before deciding to specialise.

“Health visitors are very closely aligned to GP practices and, in this area, we also have a very good collaboration with Falkirk Council and the voluntary services, particularly Aberlour, Barnardos and One Parent Scotland.”

Mrs Astbury said that although they see families in baby clinics, visits to the home allow them to focus on the environment youngsters are being brought up in.

She added: “It’s more than providing support to the parents or carers and children, it’s about assessing development, not just cognitive but social development and interaction skills.

“It’s a tremendously rewarding job and incredibly satisfying watching a child develop.”