New parents across Yorkshire are missing out on vital health visits that could help spot mental health issues.
One in five families do not see a health visitor when their baby turns one, according to official data uncovered by the NSPCC.
Visits allow healthcare staff to check on the progress of the baby and offer help to new parents who may be struggling under the demands of parenthood.
Yorkshire had some of the lowest rates of visits of any region in England, according to the figures, with only two-thirds of Wakefield families seeing a health visitor at the one-year mark.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale, this figure was 92.8 per cent of families in North Yorkshire.
The NSPCC highlights a 26 per cent fall in health visitors employed by the NHS between 2015 and 2019, making it difficult for some families to access help.
Almost half of health visitors are dealing with caseloads of more than 400 children, far above the 250 The Institute of Health Visiting recommends.
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.”
In England, all families should receive five home visits from qualified health professionals via the Healthy Child Programme, starting during pregnancy and continuing at regular intervals until their child reaches two and a half.
One in five mothers and one in 10 fathers develop mental health problems after the birth of a baby, making it vitally important that local areas can provide families with a consistent service, the NSPCC said.
Mental health problems can make it difficult for parents to look after and bond with their baby, potentially affecting the child’s overall development.
Mum Kirsty Harvey explained though she thought she had her mental health under control, having a baby changed that.
“I was terrified when I first became pregnant. I learnt to manage my mental well-being as an adult, with the help of medication but when I found out I was pregnant my anxiety kind of ramped up a gear.
“It is crucial that you don’t have to have that awful scenario of having to explain your case again, each time you see a health visitor. It is really difficult to ask for help in the first instance but especially if you have to repeat that over and over again.”
England offers a limited service compared with Scotland which offers 11 visits, Wales which offers nine and Northern Ireland which offers seven.
The Government’s Health and Social Care committee has recently recommended that as part of the Healthy Child Programme the number of routine visits in England should be increased.
Once a problem is identified it is vitally important that parents receive the care they need, the NSPCC said. The charity’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign is calling for more investment from the NHS to improve specialist community care teams, so families get the support they need no matter where they live.