Why news of health visitors is not the whole story – far from it

This week you may have read news about potential cuts to the number of health visitors working in Suffolk. Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story – not even close - so I wanted to set the record straight and explain how these proposals are designed to have a very positive impact on the lives of children, young people and families in Suffolk.

This is about Healthy Child Services, including school nursing and health visitors, for all children aged between 0 and 19 in Suffolk. In the past, there were two providers covering Suffolk, which meant a different level of service depending on where you live.

I’m pleased to say that after a formal and competitive tendering process, Suffolk County Council’s Children’s Services directorate won the contract for the whole of the county.

This is great news for us because it provides us with an opportunity to help children be healthy and well from an early age through to adolescence with the support of their families. The new contract went live at the beginning of April.

As with all new services, it is only right we carry out a thorough review of what we provide to ensure that we always deliver the best level of service we can within the money available. Of course, funding is a factor. Due, in part, to a reduction in the amount of money available from the Department of Health, Suffolk’s public health grant has fallen by more than £5 million since 2015/16, that’s about 17%.

Despite our budget constraints, I am very proud of the new service model we have developed. It has a very clear focus on integrated and partnership working, reducing inequalities and promoting health and wellbeing in our children and young people. It will have a very real impact on the nature of care and support we offer to our younger residents and their families.

We will be increasing our school nursing service by 32% - this equates to 30 new staff positions. Having nurses in schools is incredibly important, especially as we look to increase our support for those young people with poor mental health.

So what will the new service look like? We asked new parents what would improve the service for them and they told us that they wanted more information available online and when they wanted it.

Therefore, for those who receive care from health visitors, there will be a host of new services available. This includes a dedicated phone line, which will be staffed from 8am to 7.30pm, for queries and concerns that new parents may have. Our website will also have lots of new and helpful information.

On Friday, we finished a staff consultation which looked at reducing the number of health visitor posts. The final number has yet to be finalised, but what’s clear is that changes like this need to be handled carefully and sensitively.

However, while the number of health visitors may reduce, the number of health visiting appointments that a mum can expect will not. All new mums will see a health visitor twice and then, according to their needs, they will be seen by a health visitor or a healthy child practitioner, and they can visit a clinic for further follow-up appointments.

We know from feedback that many new mums enjoy the social aspect of going to a clinic because they have the opportunity to meet other mums and babies, so we’re responding by making them available.

Also included in this new model is an extension of the Family Nurse Partnership, which works with first-time young mothers. Previously this was only offered in Ipswich and Lowestoft, but will now cover the whole of Suffolk.

You will recall that Ofsted recently rated Suffolk’s children’s services as ‘outstanding’ and in that spirit we will continue to provide high quality services to keep children and young people in Suffolk safe and well.