Bedford Borough Council HQ Image:Bedford Borough Council

There’s been such a massive increase in the number of vulnerable babies and children receiving health visitor support that the rest of the service has been buckling under the strain, a meeting heard.

Councillors at a meeting of Bedford Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee were told that over the course of the pandemic the Healthy Child Programme has seen an EXTRA 334 children needing complex support – including 189 under fives.

A report to councillors said the increased pressures “resulted in staff having limited capacity to deliver the universal elements of the Healthy Child Programme, needing to concentrate their efforts to safeguard children and young people at risk of harm.”

Monday’s meeting (12 July 2021) heard officials confirm that they are planning for the return of services including face-to-face nine month child assessments but there is no date yet set for this to happen. They are having to recruit people into posts.

Officials insisted, though, that in person meetings for the most vulnerable have continued through the last 16 months.

Councillors lined up with their concerns that some mums may be falling through the net, and appealed for face to face meetings to become the norm again.

Cllr Hilde Hendricks (Lib Dem, Newnham) said: “I’ve received two powerful testimonies from women who have struggled with mental health issues.

One woman who had a very traumatic birth, with depression before the birth, had one meeting with a health visitor but didn’t get any further support.

The other email was from someone who felt extremely overwhelmed after the birth, was very low and was sent a link to a depression questionnaire. She actually felt too low to even fill it out.

She said face to face contact was needed in such circumstances.

Cllr Hendricks added: “My fear is that a lot of women and babies have fallen through the net.”

Council service commissioner Barbara Rooney said: “There are women out there I am sure who have felt very isolated.

We have attempted to keep in contact and deliver services in a different way and keep in contact with mums but inevitably it’s very difficult and we hope that the GP will have picked up from their routine assessment of mum at six weeks and make a referral to the health visiting service.

The meeting was told that an “enhanced” service will be developed to give mums the choice of services like antenatal classes in person or online.

Well Baby Clinics are also being reinstated as are integrated three year reviews.

Cllr Jim Weir (Cons, Kempston Rural) said his nine month old granddaughter “hasn’t been seen by anybody after the first 10 days.”

New mum Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant (Cons, Great Barford) said she thought the picture being painted by officials was “much rosier than parents think it is.”

The committee called to see the service plans at a future meeting and to hear anecdotal evidence from service users.