The health secretary Andrew Lansley will today pledge to double the number of disadvantaged young families who will get intensive support from a health visitor for the first two years of their baby’s life.
The Family Nurse Partnership has been shown in the United States to raise the life chances significantly of a child born into poverty, reducing their risk of abuse or neglect at home and improving their language ability and fitness to start school.
Pilot schemes under the Labour government have been running in the UK since 2007 and 6,000 families now benefit – a figure that was already planned to rise to 7,000 by next March.
Lansley will say that the number of families getting intensive support from a specially trained health visitor will rise to 12,000 over the next five years. This will be possible following the announcement last week of a drive to recruit 4,200 more health workers.
“Every child deserves the best start in life. The first years of life have a long lasting impact on a child’s future health, relationships and happiness,” Lansley will say.
“We know that early intervention, as provided by the Family Nurse Partnership programme, can help young parents to look after their children better, and can help break inter-generational patterns of disadvantage. And it can improve the health and wellbeing of the parents themselves – they are reducing smoking during pregnancy, are coping better with pregnancy, labour and parenthood and are improving their confidence and self esteem.”
Lansley’s announcement this morning comes ahead of a debate with Sir Michael Marmot, whose work on social inequalities in health has shown up the inadequacies of government programmes in tackling deprivation and set agendas worldwide, and Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, who as president of the Royal College of Physicians campaigned hard on public health problems such as smoking and alcohol abuse.
The move on Family Nurse Partnerships is one of the first public health pledges the coalition government has made. Lansley will indicate that it heralds significantly more work on tackling poverty, deprivation and the reduced life chances of children that that entails.
“We need to do much more to tackle health inequalities and the deep-rooted social problems that cause ill health,” he will say. “Giving support to new parents in their homes is just the start. We will shortly be publishing a public health white paper which will set out how we will help disadvantaged areas to change their environment, helping whole communities to improve their health and wellbeing.”
The responsibility for improving the health of their communities – from obesity to vaccination to hospital admissions after binge drinking – will fall to local authorities under the government plans.
There will be rewards for success, the Department of Health says, and local directors of public health will have their own budgets and greater powers to make decisions.
Family Nurse Partnerships are aimed at vulnerable, first-time young mothers. The trained health visitor forms a close bond with the family, advising on care of the child but also on wider issues affecting the family, such as perhaps the desire of the young woman to go to college.
They were was developed by the University of Colorado, which has 30 years of evidence of success in the long-term as well as short-term. It increases the father’s involvement in the family, for instance and also leads to less likelihood that the child – as he or she gets older – or the mother will get involved in crime or that the child will be taken into care.
According to the University of Colorado, the programme therefore makes financial sense. Each partnership costs around £3000 per year, but the US experts say cost savings there are substantial, ranging from $17,000 to $34,000 per child by the time they reach 15, with a $3-5 return for every $1 invested.
The Guardian UK