Thursday 19 April 2018 / 12:01 AM Jonathan Ashworth / NHS

Labour pledges additional health visit for every baby in England – Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, will today pledge to introduce an additional mandated health visit at 3-4 months, as part of Labour’s commitment to making Britain’s children the healthiest in the world.

Experts say that 3-4 months is when mothers are at substantial risk of perinatal mental health problems, and is a critical time in supporting continued breastfeeding.

Labour will commit an additional £25 million for health visiting to fund the pledge, paid for from Labour’s costed National Child Health Fund, announced in the General election.

Child health outcomes in Britain are lagging behind most other high-income countries on obesity rates, tooth decay and mortality. Today’s pledge forms part of Labour’s all-out effort to tackle health inequalities and improve early intervention services.

Jonathan Ashworth will also unveil new analysis showing that since the end of the national Health Visitor Programme in 2015, staffing numbers and funding have tailed off:

  • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18, local authorities will have £55.2 million in real terms cut from their public health 0-5 children’s services, which primarily cover universal health visitor reviews, because of public health cuts imposed by this Tory Government.
  • There were 8,244 full time equivalent health visitors working in the NHS as of December 2017, which is the lowest number since August 2013.
  • Numbers peaked at 10,309 in October 2015, meaning there has been a fall of more than 2,065 health visitors or 20% in just over two years

The impact of cuts to health visitor numbers is now leading to huge variations in outcomes for children across the country:

  • Nationally, 12% of babies missed out on a New Birth Visit in the most recent period, but performance was mixed- rising to 17% in the South West of England.
  • Nationally, 17% of babies missed out on their 6-8 week review- although in London this was a 1/3rd of babies.
  • Nationally, over 25% of children did not receive their mandated one year review by 12 months- in London this was a staggering 44% of children.
  • 90% of North East babies received a two and a half year check, compared to just 64% in London and 73% in the East of England.

Additionally, Jonathan Ashworth will today:

  • Pledge to reinstate the Infant Feeding Survey- first established by a Labour Government and then abandoned by the Coalition Government.
  • Pledge to work towards ensuring all maternity services achieve and maintain UNICEF’s UK Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation- as already occurs in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and is recommended by NICE as a minimum standard.
  • Pledge support for the ‘70/30 campaign’, which aims to bring about a 70% reduction in child maltreatment by the year 2030.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, speaking to the national ‘Breastfeeding: a public health priority’ conference in London, will say:

“Sir Michael Marmot taught us: “The 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. We are lagging behind most other high-income countries on mortality, breastfeeding and obesity rates.

“So I want to use the opportunity of its 70th anniversary to reflect on the next stage of the NHS’s development. And 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. 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 20 percent in just over two years.

“We must do better in England where families generally receive the lowest level of universal health visiting support when compared to the other UK nations, both in numbers and quality of universal contacts received.

“As Health Secretary it will be my commitment to work with Health Visitors to implement an additional mandated health visit at 3-4 months backed up by an extra £25 million of investment from our National Child Health Fund.

“Children are 20 per cent of our population but 100 per cent of our future. So our ambition is to create the conditions for the healthiest children in the world.”