Health visitors are unsung heroes of the NHS

A member of nursing staff dispensing drugs. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire
A member of nursing staff dispensing drugs. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire
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We recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of the NHS, and paid tribute to the dedication of its staff.

As ever, the focus was on our hospitals and health centres as the visible structure of the NHS.

However, one thing that perhaps didn’t get as much focus as it should have was the various members of NHS staff out there in our communities.

I’m talking about health visitors. They play a crucial role in supporting new families, but back in 2010, their numbers had been suffering from decline. That’s why as soon as the Coalition came into government, a commitment was made to increase the numbers of health visitors by 4,200 by 2015 and there are now over 1,000 more.

Supporting parents isn’t just something that’s nice to do. It’s something we must do.

We already know child mortality is higher in the UK than it should be. As well as health visitors, there are other groups of NHS staff out there helping women and families.

Midwives do an incredible job in supporting women through pregnancy and childbirth. Another group of staff – family nurses – provide intensive, one-to-one help for the most vulnerable young teenage mums. This project is being expanded. Health visitors are the final piece of the jigsaw.

Among all the talk of cuts, it would have been easy to miss this slow, gradual revolution in early years’ support. But it’s precisely because we’re in tough times that it is even more important. The 120,000 most troubled families in England access public services at a cost of £9 billion a year – ranging from social workers, drug and alcohol teams and mental health workers to jobcentre staff, housing officers and others. If we get it right from the beginning, we can give each and every child the best start in life, and the chance to maximise their full potential.