MP John McDonnell attended the NSPCC’s Fight For A Fair Start parliamentary reception where campaigners urged the Government to rebuild the health visiting service and prioritise mental health support for new parents.
The reception, which was sponsored by MP Sarah Olney and hosted in Westminster, came on the same day that parents and their children went to 10 Downing Street to hand in the charity’s Fight For a Fair Start petition signed by nearly 22,000 people in England.
At the reception, McDonnell heard from parents about their experiences of perinatal mental health problems, which can impact parents during pregnancy or the first year following the birth of a child, and the importance of universal health visiting services.
The NSPCC has long highlighted that without the right support at the right time, mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year can have serious immediate and long-term consequences, affecting the important nurturing relationship between parents and their babies.
Health visitors play a vital role in identifying new parents experiencing, or at risk of, mental health problems so that support can be put in place. But currently, the health visiting workforce has a shortage of 5,000 health visitors nationally, and is not able to meet the level of need amongst families in England, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
According to new NSPCC analysis of latest Public Health England data, some 19% of babies in 2021 did not receive their 12-month health visitor review by the time they were 15 months old.
The number of babies missing this vital check is up from 5 years ago when 18% of 15-month-old babies had missed their 12-month review, equating to a 10% decrease in the proportion of babies who had had their 12-month review by the time they were 15 months.
The new analysis comes as the NSPCC pens an open letter to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, signed by 25 organisations and several cross-party MPs, urging the Government to rebuild the health visiting service and to improve access to mental health services for new parents.
In 2021, 441,670 babies received the vital 12-month check by the time they were 15 months old and 106,247 missed it.
For most families across England, this review is the only check that they are entitled to between their baby being six to eight weeks old and two and half years old, which is an incredibly important time for parents’ mental health and child development.
With an increasing number of families missing this check and others, the NSPCC is concerned that new parents with mental health issues are being overlooked and left to struggle alone without help.
Vicky Nevin, Policy Manager at the NSPCC said: “Since launching our Fight for a Fair Start campaign in 2019, with the help of our fantastic supporters, positive steps have been made to help more parents get mental health support before and after birth.
“Despite this, more needs to be done to make sure that no family is missed and left struggling. As an expectant mum, I understand that becoming a parent can be daunting and it takes courage to open up about mental health. We will continue to do all we can to make sure that every mum, dad and baby can get the support they deserve.”