UWE Bristol evaluates Government led health visitor initiative

Issue date: 23 January 2014

Professor Debra Salmon and Senior Lecturer Judy Brook sitting side by side

Health visiting has been at the forefront of public health policy for the Coalition Government since its election in 2010. This has resulted in the regeneration of the health visiting service supported by national policy that called for an additional 4,200 health visitors to be trained by 2015.

UWE Bristol successfully secured the contract to deliver health visitor education across the South West. Providing the Health Visitor Programme to 11 Health Care Organisations across the region, means UWE Bristol is the biggest provider of Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (SCPHN) education in the UK.

As part of the University's commitment to the programme, Professor Debra Salmon led an evaluation of the SCPHN programme to assess the extent to which the course was meeting the vision of the future workforce.

The evaluation focused on the key areas of student experience and journey, stakeholder analysis and the family and community reactions to the introduction of the new service provision. The assessment used a case study approach as well as quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data. 141 students took part in the evaluation, alongside 10 practice teachers, 6 service managers and 14 parents.

Students felt that the course had been inspirational; in particular, they reported developing an appreciation of how families' lifestyles and environment affected their health. However, many felt the weight of responsibility at being the 'new vanguard' of health visiting. Some students reported being educated for a role that they were not yet seeing in practice and this led to anxiety and frustration.

Service managers' biggest worry was that there would still not be enough health visitors when the Implementation Plan finished in 2015. Managers were also wary of changes in other agencies, including the ongoing NHS reorganisation, which might undermine the drive to expand health visitor numbers and maintain high quality services for children and their families.

Teachers in practice showed real commitment to the increase in student numbers, which they believed was a positive development. This was despite the challenges it presented, balancing their own work with families with the demands of teaching students.

Parents had both negative and positive experiences of the health visiting service. Positive experiences centred on individual health visitors who were perceived to 'go the extra mile', who genuinely seemed to care, who were knowledgeable and skilled and who were able to give advice and guidance. Parents were impressed by these skills in the student health visitors they met. Parents also recognised that lack of time and resources negatively affected the care they received.

Professor Debra Salmon, who led the programme evaluation, said, "Overall the study indicates that managers felt this group of students were 'fit for purpose' and students were excited about putting their new learning into practice. Many students felt confident to work collaboratively across agencies, therapeutically with families, inclusively with communities and were beginning to understand how their leadership role would develop."

Cheryl Adams, Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said, "This helpful evaluation has identified some critical success factors for training new health visitors and for the delivery of effective health visiting services. Having an understanding of how best to manage the recruit's journey from interview to safe practitioner is very helpful. The reform of health visiting should still be seen as being in its infancy. As can be seen from the parents comments there is still much to be done for it to have its full impact on promoting the health and wellbeing of children, families and communities."

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