ACP member authors guidance for HEE on specialist health visitors for perinatal and infant mental health

Health Education England (HEE) has created new guidance on how to develop specialist health visitors in perinatal and infant mental health. They are experts who specialise in looking after the emotional wellbeing of pregnant women and new mothers, with support too for their children, partners and families.

The guidance aims to increase detection and reduce the impact of depression and other mental health illnesses and outlines the clinical training and service development roles of specialist health visitors, with a sample job description and guidance on relevant training.

One-in-five mothers suffer from depression, anxiety, or in some cases psychosis, during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. This specialist role includes assessment and early intervention to strengthen bonding and attachment, to build resilience and promote positive wellbeing. The document explains that early intervention by specialist health visitors strengthens bonding and attachment between parents and their babies and young children, which can be affected by mental health problems in parents.

It goes on to say that implementing the framework’s recommendations will increase the number of specialists, develop local leadership in infant and perinatal mental health and build capacity and provide specialist support to the wider health visitor workforce and that investment in creating specialist health visitors in perinatal and infant mental health could achieve longer term savings on child and adult mental health services, as well as wider public health benefits.

Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Director of Nursing and Deputy Director of Education and Quality, Health Education England said:

"Implementing the framework’s recommendations will significantly increase the number of specialists, develop local leadership in infant and perinatal mental health and will also build capacity in the wider health visitor workforce. This will in turn strengthen prevention and the promotion of good mental health.The framework is a very positive development that I hope will be embraced by every employer. My expectation is that longer term savings on child and adult mental health services and the wider public health benefits will more than outweigh any small investment in creating these specialists." 

HEE produced the guidance in association with the Institute of Health Visiting, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Association for Infant Mental Health (UK). The author, ACP member Sara Rance, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Parent Infant Psychotherapist, working at the time on behalf of HEE, said:

"The publication of this document creates an opportunity for Child Psychotherapists to approach their commissioners re development of Perinatal/Infant MH/under 5s services, armed with the publication, which includes a description of the role, job description and information about relevant training.  Perinatal/Infant Mental Health pathways should include specialist Health Visitors and child psychotherapists have an important role in providing training and clinical supervision to such specialists.  Some posts are actually located within CAMHS services and/or Adult Perinatal MH teams."

There has been news coverage in The Commissioning Review as well as Nursing and GP press.  The document was written by Sara in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary working group, convened when she was on secondment to the HV programme at Health Education England, working on training and workforce development in the field of perinatal and infant mental health. Read the full report here