Following the announcement that NHS England will invest an extra £1 billion pounds a year to support the "struggling" mental health sector – as identified in NHS England's Five Year Forward View – the IHV has suggested that some of this should be targeted at early years support.
Dr Cheryl Adams, executive director of the IHV, said: “Recent IHV surveys into infant mental health show that over 80% of health visitors use their antenatal visit to talk to parents about infant mental health. However, post-birth, they do not have sufficient contact with mothers in order to give adequate ongoing support. Over 50% of health visitors believe that the mothers they visit should be talking to their babies more, as this helps develop the babies’ sense of security and belonging – an early sign of mental health.
“Helping parents to understand how to interact with their babies, from day one, helps all children to have the best start in life and, in many cases, helps to prevent later mental health issues from developing. New local authority commissioners must ensure that all health visitors have the training, capacity and support to provide sufficient advice to all new parents.”
The IHV has reiterated its view that positive infant mental health lays the foundation for mental wellbeing in a baby’s early years and ensures better social and emotional health in later life, which could reduce the £105 billion burden that the Mental Health Taskforce estimate is the cost of mental ill health.
An IHV survey into infant mental health further found that health visitor training on this topic is inconsistent across the country. More than 26% of health visitors have never received any formal training in infant mental health and, for those who had, the quality and duration of it varied across the country.
Ensuring that there are specialist health visitor posts in perinatal and infant mental health within every health visiting service would, the IHV argues, help the NHS to reduce the incidence and impact of maternal depression and other perinatal mental health problems that can affect infants’ developing mental wellbeing, through earlier diagnosis, intervention and improved support.
Dr Adams added: “The Institute would welcome the creation of specialist health visitor posts in perinatal and infant mental health across the country, to ensure that every health visitor has access to the training and specialist advice they require to maximise the support that they give families in the first 1001 Critical Days of Life.
"It is imperative that the government and commissioners support early, preventative action on infant mental health by well-trained health visitors, in order to lay the foundations for social and emotional wellbeing for all babies. This would significantly reduce NHS spend on mental health services in later childhood and adult life."
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