New data analysis from the NSPCC has found that 38% of families are not receiving their mandated antenatal health visit, and a quarter are missing their contact when their child turns one.
“Health visitors are uniquely well-placed to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties”
In London, half of all new parents are not seeing a member of the health visiting team a year after birth.
Perinatal mental health problems affect up to one in five mothers and up to one in 10 fathers, with health visitors trained to spot these issues early before they escalate.
Under the Healthy Child Programme in England, parents are promised five mandated health visits between pregnancy and when their child hits age two-and-a-half.
However, the NSPCC cautioned that public health budget cuts and health visitor shortages were having a negative impact on visits and services.
It highlighted that health visitor numbers had dropped 26% since 2015, when the commissioning of public health services was transferred from the NHS to local government.
Almost half of health visitors in post were working with caseloads of more than 400 children each – way higher than the recommended 250, said the NSPCC.
In light of the figures, the charity is today launching a new national campaign called Fight for a Fair Start.
The campaign calls on the government to ensure that all parents in England receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits undertaken by a “consistent health visitor”.
The government currently recommends that “at the very least” the first three health visits should be carried out by qualified health visitors.
“We are working to modernise the Healthy Child Programme to give better access to parents”
However, Nursing Times understands that health visitor shortages mean more organisations are relying on less qualified members of the health visiting team to carry out contacts.
NSPCC head of policy and public affairs, Almudena Lara, said: “Health visitors are uniquely well-placed to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties, but with a decline in staff numbers and rising family caseloads they are working under significant pressure.
“It’s vitally important that all families receive a minimum of five face-to-face visits undertaken by a consistent health visitor to ensure any mental health problems they might be experiencing are picked up on as early as possible so they can be signposted for more specialist support.”
At present, England offers a limited service in comparison to Scotland, which offers 11 mandatory visits, Wales that offers nine and Northern Ireland with seven.
As part of new plans to tackle preventative illness, the government has pledged to “modernise” the Healthy Child Programme.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said this revamp would work to give parents “better access” to the health visiting service.
Responding to the NSPCC campaign, the spokeswoman said: “We know what happens in childhood can have an impact well into later life.
“Every child is eligible to see a health visitor, and we are working to modernise the Healthy Child Programme to give better access to parents.”