Boost health visitor numbers to protect child mental health, urges RCN

RCN uses infant mental health awareness week to highlight work of health visitors.
health visitor with mother and baby

The health visitor service must be a top government priority if children are to flourish, the RCN said.

Health visitors are influential in infant mental health, but their numbers are falling Photo: iStock

RCN professional lead for children and young people's nursing Fiona Smith pointed out how health visitor numbers have dropped by more than 1,000 in just over a year in England.

She used infant mental health awareness week to highlight the importance of health visitors and call on the government to boost staffing.

Formative early years 

The Mental Health Foundation says 10% of children and young people have a mental health problem. Such difficulties formed in the early years of a child’s life are likely to be caused by mental health problems in one or both of their parents.

Ms Smith said: ‘Infant mental health is so important and yet many are unaware of the difference it can make to children now and later in life. Without stimulation from a nurturing carer, a variety of problems can arise, potentially damaging the child’s mental health for many years to come.

‘A key part of health visiting is to ensure all children in the UK receive the care they need during this crucial period.'

Essential role

Ms Smith said there had been a fall in the number of health visitors of more than 1,000 between October 2015 and January 2017.

She added: ‘Health visitors are essential if all infants are to get the best start in life, physically and mentally. This service must be a top priority for the next government if our future generations are to flourish as they should.’

The RCN report The Best Start: The Future of Children’s Health, shows how plummeting numbers of health visitors are putting children’s health at risk.

In other news