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Innovations by Devon’s health visitors lead the way nationally

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Digital innovations by Devon’s health visitors, which ensure that new parents receive the support they need during the coronavirus pandemic, have been recognised nationally.

Devon County Council’s Health Visitor Service has been quick to respond to the pandemic and offer virtual appointments, new birth phone and video appointments and specialist support groups, including infant feeding and sleep clinics.

Last week they were invited to share their innovations with the Institute of Health Visiting, the principle body tasked with sharing best practice to health visitors in England.

Many services in England during Covid-19 have either stopped or severely restricted face to face appointments.

This has led to concerns that services might miss vital clues about people’s mental health – particularly new parents, children’s development and domestic violence, due to the hidden harm presented through Covid-19.

The techniques Devon Public Health Nursing have developed are proving essential in safeguarding these families.

The new online service developed by Devon County Council has been so effective that despite restrictions on face-to-face interviews, all 1,575 babies born in Devon during the height of the lockdown, from March 1 to May 31, received a phone assessment and a community clinic appointment.

If additional contact and support was required, they also received a follow up email, with additional supporting information and signposting to relevant websites.

This group of families will now also receive an additional contact from the health visiting service when their baby is aged between three to four months as an additional safety net, to respond to any further needs.

And now the service intends to continue to offer online support alongside face-to-face appointments after the pandemic is over.

Around 80 per cent of work carried out by health visitors are universal services that all parents can access. Around 20 per cent is targeted work with more vulnerable families.

Victoria Howard Devon Public Health Nursing Professional lead, said:

“We recognised early on that if we didn’t make changes to how we delivered the service there was a real risk that a parent or child who needed support would be missed.

“Usually if a new mother is struggling it would have been picked up by a number of community services, and that mother would often also have a support from their peer or family networks.

“Lockdown changed that. Support groups were unable to run, home visits were stopped, hospital appointments were postponed, GP surgeries were restricted, and people were asked not to visit family.

“For a vulnerable mother, out of touch with family and friends, this presented a real risk and we had to adapt quickly.

“By adopting video conferencing, we have been able to develop a personalised face-to-face service which helps us to pick up signs that a new mother or family is struggling, and they need help.”

Alongside video teleconferencing is the introduction of online daily support groups called ‘Family Focus’.

Held up to three times a day, Family Focus allows up to six parents to talk about different subjects related to a variety of ages including antenatal, new-borns and children up to two and a half.

To support this, health visitors have created new online content with videos free to view on subjects including early feeding, responsive parenting, starting solids, sleep, understanding your baby, play, transition to school and toilet training.

Councillor James McInnes, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Schools said:

“The fact that Devon’s health visitors have Photo of Councillor James McInnesbeen invited to address this national group to share good practice among fellow professionals and that these innovations will be used by other local authorities, is fantastic.

“I congratulate them for their hard work; their innovations ensure that they remain accessible to support children, new mums and young infants during this challenging time.

“The introduction of video appointments has been so successful that once the current crises is over, they will be able to offer online meetings alongside face to face appointments.

“Having this option will provide an added layer of support for parents who may find it difficult to make a face to face appointment perhaps because they live in an isolated part of Devon.”