NEARLY 40 per cent of parents are missing out on vital health checks within the first year of their baby’s life which could help diagnose mental health struggles.

Data from Public Health England shows not all babies born in the Essex County Council area are receiving the minimum five health visits under the Healthy Child Programme.

Across the country as many as one in four families will lose out on these checks which has prompted the UK’s leading children’s charity, the NSPCC, to launch its Fight for a Fair Start campaign.

And in Essex, the figure is even higher.

Halstead Gazette:

A health visitor pictured at a table with a mum and her young daughter

The NSPCC’s 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 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.”

Perinatal mental health problems immediately before and after birth, affect up to one in five mothers and up to one in ten dads.

This can make it difficult for them to look after and bond with their baby, and potentially affect a child’s overall development.


In Southend, only four per cent of the visits were missed in the past 12 months.

This was closer to 16 per cent in Thurrock.

The NSPCC analysed PHE’s latest release on health visits carried out in 2017/18.

Essex County Council claimed the figures are incomplete and shared its confidence that support in the county for new mums is "contributing to the best possible outcomes for them".

Halstead Gazette:

Perinatal mental health problems affect up to one in five mothers, and up to one in ten dads

A spokesman said: "Unfortunately, these figures don't share the whole picture, nor provide any context as to how new mothers are supported in Essex.

“The wellbeing of all new mothers and their children is our priority and our approach, which is in line with national requirements, focuses on engaging with mothers in the right way for them, based on their circumstances and what they tell us they want from services.

“In addition to the five checks within the first 12 months following birth, we continue to explore new ways in which we can support families, always with a strong focus on outcomes.

"This means there will be some mothers who require alternative support, including more regular contact in different forms, in addition to the traditional visits."

In comparison to England's five appointments, Scotland, offers 11 healthcare visits, Welsh mums are offered nine, and Northern Ireland aims for seven.


NHS workforce statistics suggest the authority has also cut the number of health visitors by a quarter between 2015 and 2019.

Almost half of those still in the service are working with caseloads of 400-plus children each when the Institute of Health Visiting recommends a maximum of one health visitor per 250 children.

Caroline Smith has worked with more than 2,000 parents as a postnatal tutor with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), running courses all over Essex.

She said: "The NCT is disappointed by the NSPCC's findings and is concerned many babies, and their parents, may be missing out on an important opportunity for professional support.

"We're aware the health visiting service is currently stretched but our Hidden Half campaign has highlighted the detrimental effect cutbacks are having on parents' mental health and emotional wellbeing."

Hidden Half focuses on a mother's six-week postnatal check-up which the NCT reported is failing to pick up their mental health concerns.

A survey found women were not being asked about their emotional wellbeing, felt unable to disclose any potential mental health worries, and feared health professionals would think they were incapable of looking after their baby.

Ms Smith added: "Research shows parents' mental health has a strong predictive effect on babies outcomes in childhood, and we would urge the Department of Health to prioritise the one-year baby health check."