Government is at risk of failing babies and parents during the coronavirus pandemic

We and a coalition of early years charities warn government they're at risk of failing a generation of babies born during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Joined by over 2,000 members of the public, we’ve written a letter urging Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock to rebuild health visiting services in England to support new and expecting parents in these difficult times.

Services struggled to support families across the country even before the pandemic. We and other organisations have long warned government about cuts to public health funding and the significant decline in NHS health visitors.

Our Fight for a Fair Start campaign calls on government to make sure all new parents receive the mental health support they need now and beyond the pandemic.


Only 1 in 10 parents with children under two saw a health visitor face-to-face during the pandemic1


Coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions mean many women have had to give birth alone and new parents have been cut off from their support network of family and friends.

This makes health visitors more important than ever. But the pandemic has also meant restrictions to the service and redeployment of health visitors, meaning many families are left without health visits.

Since April, the NSPCC’s helpline has received 1,897 contacts from adults concerned about parental mental health, with over half being serious enough to be referred for further support. The monthly average number of contacts post-lockdown has increased by over a third compared to our monthly average for January to March.2

"I feel so sorry for any new parents that are struggling with their mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Support from professionals is so important to help new parents at any time, and is more important than ever now."
Mum Melissa from Rugby, Warwickshire

We're working hard to make sure we're still here for children. Will you be there too?

Public Health England must prioritise giving every child a fair start in life

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We’re urging government to recognise this as a timely opportunity to rebuild the nation’s public health services for children and families.

Led by health visitors, all families in England are entitled to receive five check-ins from qualified health visitors via the Healthy Child Programme.

However, research we conducted with over 2,000 mothers in England with YouGov prior to the pandemic found only 6% had been supported by the same health professional throughout the perinatal period. 1 in 4 mothers had reviews conducted via letter, text message, or a phone call instead of face-to-face support.

Public Health England recently announced that health visitors should not be redeployed over the winter. But research by UCL has found that in some areas of England, as many as 50% of staff were redeployed during the first phase of the pandemic.3

Dr Cheryll Adams, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting said:

“Over the past five years we have seen an average 30% reduction in the number of health visitors in England, accompanied by a massive variation in these losses across the country. The average health visitor caseload is now 500 children, double the recommended number.

The number of invisible vulnerable babies will have increased and perinatal mental illness is already reported by health visitors to be ‘sky rocketing’.

The whole population will also be paying the price - the erosion of the health visitor role results in kicking the can down the road where the impact is picked up by other much more costly services. We urge the Government to listen to the voices of parents, charities and health professionals now and take urgent action to reinstate a robust health visiting service before even more damage is done.”

Fighting for a fair start for every family

We’ve worked with nine expert early years charities to create eight principles for health visiting to help new and expecting parents who need support. Click below to read what we're fighting for and who we're fighting with.

The coalition includes:

  • Action for Children
  • The Association of Child Psychotherapists
  • Best Beginnings
  • First 1001 Days Movement
  • Home Start
  • OXPIP
  • The Institute of Health Visiting
  • NCB
  • The Parent-Infant Foundation

Andrew Fellowes, Public Affairs Manager at the NSPCC said:

“Without the right support, perinatal mental health problems, and difficulties in the parent-infant relationship can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for both children and families.

Before the pandemic began the health visiting service was struggling to support parents and babies across the country, and we know it is not equipped to meet the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Today we are urging Matt Hancock to ensure there is sufficient funding and resources, so no families are left behind at a time when they will be relying on this support the most.”

What is perinatal mental health?

The perinatal period is that crucial time – during pregnancy and after birth - when parents are finding their feet and building bonds with their baby.

But this can also be a difficult time. Mums can experience perinatal mental health problems from antenatal and postnatal depression to anxiety and postpartum psychosis. Dads can also suffer mental health problems during this time, like depression and anxiety.

It can be difficult to look after yourself when you’re struggling – let alone a baby. Help us demand that parents get the support they need, wherever they live.

Get support if you or someone you know is struggling

We're here to support you, no matter your worry. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form

Some of our services are specially developed to help parents during pregnancy and after birth. Find out more about our working with families services, including how to get in touch with ones in your area.

You can fight with us for a fair start for every family

"I never knew if there was mental health support available for me as a dad back then [...] but I know I could have used more support. There needs to be resourcing and funds made available so this kind of support can be provided."
Callum, a dad in Northern Ireland

"I had no idea that you could experience scary thoughts about the baby and that it was called postnatal anxiety - I thought I was genuinely losing my mind."
Mum in Wales

"When my little boy was about two weeks old the visions started. […] When he was about 6 months old, I remember sitting on my bed with my back to him and I turned around and he was ‘possessed’ and staring at me. Really it was just my beautiful little boy looking at his mummy."
Janine, a mum in England

"I do feel that there is more out there to help women and families with what I went through but mental health is lacking in funding and understanding"
Mum in Wales

"During and after my first two pregnancies my mental health suffered desperately. All my health visitors were lovely but by necessity they had to rush."
Natalie, a mum in England

"I’d like to see professionals checking in on dads’ mental health and inclusion for dads at the start of their parenting journey and beyond."
Cahir, a dad in Northern Ireland

"I want people to know that these feelings don't last forever. That black cloud that created a storm in my life soon passed and perhaps could have passed even sooner if I had gotten the help I needed."
Tayah, a mum in England

"…. I believe that my ability to bond with my child has been affected & I fear this may have consequences later on."
Mum in Wales

"I left the hospital feeling such shame, embarrassment and worry. My fears of my baby being taken away turned into believing that my baby was going to die. […] I had to fight so hard to get anyone to listen to me."
Mum in Northern Ireland

"I was breaking down and I knew I needed help to cope but I was horrified to discover the mental health services I needed weren’t available in Northern Ireland."
Mum in Northern Ireland

"I had to fight to be listened to. I knew I had depression. They kept telling me it was baby blues but I knew it wasn’t. I felt fobbed off by my doctors when I went to them for help."
Mum in Wales

"I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just knew I couldn’t make myself move. I wanted to brush my teeth and do my hair, but I couldn’t. On the odd day, I’d manage but that was so rare. It was awful, like a dark cloud all around me."
Tayah, a mum in England

"All parents should have access to good perinatal mental health support."
Jen Baker, Specialist Health Visitor in England

"The majority of visits from care workers that followed our son’s birth were about checks on the baby. When these were done they’d say ‘Ok, see you in 4-6 weeks’ and off they’d go. If you’re never asked about your mental health as a parent, you don’t feel like you have the option to speak up and get help."
Gary, a dad in Northern Ireland

"Maybe if I’d had more visits, my Health Visitor could have picked up on how I was feeling. Likewise, maybe if I’d been pressed more I would have spoken out and how I was doing would have been noticed. The opportunity passed too quickly. "
Natalie, a mum in England

"Parents and children deserve the right support from appropriately trained health professionals who understand impact of illness on family; with appropriate support, impact of illness can be greatly reduced."
Mary Duggan, Specialist Health Visitor in Northern Ireland

"When I was going through this, I just felt completely worthless to my family and I felt like something was pulling me, a physical pull, to disappear into something dark."
Janine, a mum in England

"Timely and the right support is vital in helping mothers to enjoy their babies and laying the best possible foundations for not only their mental health, but especially that of their children."
Alice Gibson, Special Perinatal Health Visitor in England

"It helps to know why something like this is happening to you and that it will end. You shouldn’t feel ashamed."
Natalie, a mum in England

*DISCLAIMER

The quotes featured on this page are from real parents and practioners, but photographs have been posed by models.


References

  1. According to the Babies in Lockdown report, produced by Best Beginnings, Home Start UK and Parent-Infant Foundation, just 1 in 10 surveyed parents with children under two saw a health visitor face-to-face during lockdown.  Survey was conducted April – June.

  2. The monthly average number of contacts post lockdown has increased by 34% when compared to the average for Jan – March.

  3. UCL, 2020: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2020/jul/vulnerable-families-risk-health-visitor-workloads-increase