A multi million pound investment in Kent’s health visiting service has been highlighted as Kent County Council relaunches its consultation into infant feeding services.
The consultation was initially published in the summer to seek the public’s views on a new delivery model as the contract with current providers – PS Breastfeeding CIC – is coming to an end.
After listening to the concerns of service users, the consultation was withdrawn and the council has been working with families and key groups on the new consultation which is launched today (23 October).
The main proposal is that the NHS Health Visiting service takes over the responsibility for the provision of infant feeding services, including breastfeeding, with intermediate and specialist support. It will do this as part of its commitment to offering families at least five health development checks in the early years of a child’s life.
The commissioning of the NHS Health Visiting service became the responsibility of KCC in October 2015. In the preceding years, the service received additional investment building up to over £10m additional investment annually. At that time, it was not possible for the Service to provide all the elements of the Healthy Child Programme but since transfer, this investment has been fully utilised and the service has massively improved. It is now achieving 96% of new birth visits (seeing 17,298 women and their babies) and is ready to provide the entirety of infant feeding services in the community, including breastfeeding support.
KCC officers will continue to meet with service users to discuss the issue through the consultation period and breastfeeding campaigners have also been invited to meet with NHS leaders and Health Visitors.
KCC Cabinet Member for Public Health, Peter Oakford, says families should be reassured by the level of investment into the new service. He added: “The original plan was to commission an interim breastfeeding support service until the Health Visiting Service had the capacity to take on this work. Now that the number of health visitors has increased, we are more than able to provide this service to a good standard.
“Our focus has been on making sure that the offer from the NHS Health Visiting Service is appropriate and will meet the needs of all Kent families, including breastfeeding services. In light of the Health Visiting Services’ capacity to now deliver the full range of infant feeding support, the need for the additional service has passed.”
Health Visitors are nurses or midwives who have received further higher education in public health and are on the Nursing and Midwifery Council Register as Specialist Community Public Health Nurses. This means the training they have received makes them fully qualified to undertake this important work.
In addition to the specialist public health training, 93% have undertaken the evidence-based UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative training to support women in the antenatal and postnatal period to ensure that they make informed decisions over feeding.
The current PS Breastfeeding service does not have the universal reach of the Health Visiting service which, as well as offering a minimum of five health developmental checks, to women and children also has the flexibility to offer a service from over a hundred locations.
In this proposal, the Health Visitors will provide an additional 36 breastfeeding clinics run by health visitors and peer supporters. Specialist support will be provided by the Health Visiting service when and where it is needed.
There will be four Breastfeeding Champions in each of the 12 Districts (a total of 48), to support colleagues and families and to promote Breastfeeding Welcome. It is proposed that initially there will be at least four Specialist clinics a week across Kent. This will involve one clinic in each of the following areas; East Kent (Maidstone, Swale and Canterbury), West Kent (Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Malling and Ashford), North Kent (Dartford, Gravesham and Sevenoaks) and Kent Coastal (Shepway, Dover, Deal and Thanet). As the NHS has access to 111 venues, these clinics will be flexible and will be held in the areas that have the highest number of referrals to reduce the amount of travel time for families.
Please visit www.kent.gov.uk/infantfeeding to complete the online questionnaire and view supporting documents. The consultation closes on the 3rd December.