There’s been such a massive increase in the number of vulnerable babies and children receiving health visitor support that the rest of the service has been buckling under the strain, a meeting heard.
Councillors at a meeting of Bedford Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee were told that over the course of the pandemic the Healthy Child Programme has seen an EXTRA 334 children needing complex support – including 189 under-fives.
A report to councillors said the increased pressures “resulted in staff having limited capacity to deliver the universal elements of the Healthy Child Programme, needing to concentrate their efforts to safeguard children and young people at risk of harm.”
Monday’s meeting heard officials confirm that they are planning for the return of services including face-to-face nine-month child assessments but there is no date yet set for this to happen. They are having to recruit people into posts.
Officials insisted, though, that in-person meetings for the most vulnerable have continued through the last 16 months.
Councillors lined up with their concerns that some mums may be falling through the net and appealed for face to face meetings to become the norm again.
Cllr Hilde Hendricks (Lib Dem, Newnham) said: “I’ve received two powerful testimonies from women who have struggled with mental health issues.
“One woman who had a very traumatic birth, with depression before the birth, had one meeting with a health visitor but didn’t get any further support.
“The other email was from someone who felt extremely overwhelmed after the birth, was very low and was sent a link to a depression questionnaire. She actually felt too low to even fill it out.”
She said face to face contact was needed in such circumstances.
Cllr Hendricks added: “My fear is that a lot of women and babies have fallen through the net.”
Council service commissioner Barbara Rooney said: “There are women out there I am sure who have felt very isolated.
“We have attempted to keep in contact and deliver services in a different way and keep in contact with mums but inevitably it’s very difficult and we hope that the GP will have picked up from their routine assessment of mum at six weeks and make a referral to the health visiting service.”
The meeting was told that an “enhanced” service will be developed to give mums the choice of services like antenatal classes in person or online.
Well Baby Clinics are also being reinstated as are integrated three-year reviews.
Cllr Jim Weir (Cons, Kempston Rural) said his nine-month-old granddaughter “hasn’t been seen by anybody after the first 10 days.”
New mum Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant (Cons, Great Barford) said she thought the picture being painted by officials was “much rosier than parents think it is.”
Commenting after the meeting, Cllr Fouzia Zamir, Labour’s Health Spokesperson said: “Cuts have consequences, and we heard yesterday in the committee how this service has really suffered – not just as a result of the pandemic, but as a result of acute cuts by Government to the Public Health grant.
“Face to face appointments are incredibly important for new parents and their babies and so it’s vital that these are restored as soon as possible.
“I am keen too that new mothers should have the opportunity to discuss any concerns that they may have with a health visitor in private, and I hope that my suggestions in this regard will be taken forward.”
Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Public Health & Wellbeing said; “The unprecedented increased demand from vulnerable families hit hard by the pandemic, coupled with the difficulties of delivering a face-to-face service while infection rates remain high, has created what Chief Officer Ian Brown accurately described yesterday as a ‘perfect storm’ for this service.
“I am confident that CCS are doing their utmost to bring back face to face services as soon as possible, and Public Health have made funding available from the strategic reserve in order to help with this, but in the longer term a realistic funding settlement from Government recognising the scale of the problem that public health services face is what is needed”
The committee called to see the service plans at a future meeting and to hear anecdotal evidence from service users.
by David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Erica Roffe