NHS England has just published information on improvements in health visitor service delivery over a 12 month period. The data measures delivery of Healthy Child Programme reviews and assessments – specifically the antenatal check, the new birth visit, the 12 month and the 2 to 2 and a half year review. These checks and reviews are designed to provide timely support to parents at critical moments in their child’s development – assessing and identifying need and providing or referring on to the help required.
These are called the ‘universal’ checks as they should be offered to all parents of babies and infants. Before the inception of the Government’s health visiting programme in 2011 numbers of health visitors were dwindling and with it the percentage of parents who were receiving this support.
Since 2011 there has been steady growth in health visitor numbers. In April 2013 NHS England took on responsibility for commissioning health visiting. We set out our expectations in a service specification which included a requirement for delivery of the universal HCP checks and reviews, and collection of data on delivery.
New data collections take time to establish. We subjected all our data to validity checks to assure its quality. Our first national analysis of the data covers July-August 2013. It was based on valid returns for the different checks and reviews from between only 54% and 77% of service providers. However the quality of the data improved steadily so that between by the same period in 2014 we had returns for the different checks from between 81% and 97% of providers.
The relatively low returns at the beginning of the programme limit our ability to make comparisons over the year.
We are not comparing like with like as the data for 2014 is based on reports from numbers of providers who didn’t report in 2013.
However, within those limitations we are pleased to report apparent improvements in delivery:
- Overall, the percentage of children receiving health visiting services has increased from Quarter 2 2013/14 to Quarter 2 2014/15:
- The percentage of new birth visits undertaken within 14 days in England increased from 74% in Quarter 2 2013/14 to 79% in Quarter 2 2014/15.
- The percentage of children receiving the 12 month development review by the time they turn 15 months has increased from 64% in Quarter 2 2013/14 to 77% in Quarter 2 2014/15.
- The percentage of children in England who received a 2-2.5 year review by the time they turned 2.5 years increased from 63% in Quarter 2 2013/14 to 68% in Quarter 2 2014/15.
- The numbers of parents receiving antenatal visits increased from 32,541 to 45,232.
As health visitor numbers continue to increase we hope to report steady improvements in the numbers and percentage of eligible parents and children receiving visits. From 2015 we have also started to measure the percentage of eligible children receiving a visit at 6 to 8 weeks. From summer 2015 – as Health and Social Care Centre establishes the Maternal and Child Data Set - it is hoped to begin to be able to collect meaningful data at a local authority level, which current systems do not allow.
In the meantime the service delivery metrics demonstrate the success of the national health visiting programme: increased numbers of health visitors are producing a better service for parents and their children. NHS England, Department of Health, Health Education England and our partners are working together to support health visiting services and to ensure that this better service translates in to improved health and wellbeing for of citizens of the future.
Sabrina Fuller is Head of Health Improvement at NHS England