Unite welcomed a new pledge from the Labour Party announced this week (April 19) that would establish an additional mandated health visit for babies 3-4 months – a time that experts say is critical for mothers’ and children’s health.
Labour’s pledge is part of a raft of policies in its wider manifesto that aim to make UK children the healthiest in the world.
The additional health visit the party said should be mandatory because between 3 and 4 months, mothers are at heightened risk of perinatal mental health problems. It is also a vital period in supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth announced the policy in a speech on Thursday (April 19) where he noted that “foundations for virtually every aspect of human development – physical, intellectual and emotional – are laid in early childhood.”
“Yet after many years of progress, health outcomes for babies and young children in the UK are stalling,” he noted. “We are lagging behind most other high-income countries on mortality, breastfeeding and obesity rates.
“I strongly believe a laser like focus on improving the health and wellbeing of every child must be an absolute priority.
“The future of health visiting services is at a critical juncture,” Ashworth added. “David Cameron and Theresa May used to boast of their commitment to increase the number of health visitors. Yet we have actually seen health visitors cut by more than twenty percent in just over two years.
“Children are twenty per cent of our population but 100 per cent of our future. So our ambition is create the conditions for the healthiest children in the world.”
Ashworth highlighted that the new mandated health visits would be paid for through Labour’s costed National Child Health Fund – Labour would commit an additional £25m in support for health visiting.
The announcement comes as a new analysis shows just how hard health visiting has been hit after a decade of austerity. Between 2016 and 2018 alone, £55m has been slashed in real terms from public health services for children aged 0-5, which mostly encompasses health visiting.
Full-time equivalent health visitors have fallen dramatically over the last two years – from a peak in 2015 of 10,309 to only 8,244 in December of last year, the lowest number since 2013, representing a 20 per cent cut.
The analysis showed wide regional variations in health visits as well, with cuts in London most pronounced.
Nationally, over 25 per cent of children did not receive their mandated one year review by 12 months – but in London this was a staggering 44 per cent of children.
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said the figures showed that health visiting needed the kind of revamped support that Labour has offered.
“We warmly welcome this announcement from the Labour Party that pledges an additional health visit at three-to-four months,” she said.
“Children are the future and any steps that can be taken to give them the best start in life are to be applauded.
“There has been a serious dip in health visitor numbers recently and investment in restoring the service is vital,” Amadi added. “Prevention in the early years of a child’s life pays great dividends in terms of mental and physical health as the child becomes an adult.”