My working life... Health visitor

Gabriella Jozwiak
Monday, June 30, 2014

Gabriella Jozwiak finds out about the multi-faceted role of a health visitor.

Kate Russell works as a health visitor for the Wembley Centre for Health & Care, Ealing Hospital NHS Trust. As a community public health nurse who works with families and children aged from birth to five, a health visitor sees newborn babies every week at home, as well as providing community and specialist services. Every family in the UK is entitled to have a health visitor.

Ms Russell says, 'My daily work is a mixture of visiting newborn babies in their homes, running health clinics, writing up medical notes and managing the provision of any additional support services a family might need.

'Every mother and baby gets a visit from us at home in the first two weeks post-birth - a 'new birth' visit. We ask questions about their social and environmental situation and medical history, give health advice about things such as sudden infant death syndrome, and invite families to our health centres and clinics. We make parents aware we're in the community to support them.

'If a parent has any issues or social problems, such as postnatal depression, we can assist them. We work closely with different professionals, such as social workers, GPs, housing officers and with schools and nurseries. We direct families to other services, or set up support for them.

'For example, if a mother had a low mood I might ask her permission to liaise with her GP. Or if we had a concern about safeguarding, we might refer her to social services. If a child is putting on too much weight we might contact a dietician once they are older.

'After the first visit, we invite the parent and baby to our "Well Baby" clinic. Usually, if no issues are identified in the first visit we don't go to their home again.

'The clinics are located in children's centres and health centres. We monitor babies' growth by weighing them and plotting their progress. We answer any questions parents have, give them advice about feeding and remind them to attend appointments.

'We follow the Department of Health guidelines, under the Healthy Child Programme, which stipulates how frequently to monitor a child. The most intensive period is the first six months. Then children have a one-year and two to two-and-a-half-year review, usually in a clinic.

'We'll see a child with additional needs more often, as required. If there are no additional needs, we may not see the child again after two. But we're always available if the parents need support.

'As a health visitor you have to document everything you do. After new birth visits, I write up what I've discovered on the baby's, mother's and any other significant family member's medical records.

'We have some help from administration staff. My role also involves attending meetings. For example, if a family is on a child protection plan, I go to multi-disciplinary meetings with officers from other services also involved in protecting that child. I have to follow up referrals and set aside time to make calls to mothers.

'Currently, as part of my case load, I have two families on child protection plans, ten children classified as "children in need" (which means they require local authority support), two children in foster care, and 15 children with special needs (including very premature babies or unique medical disorders). Each week we're given four new births and I run one or two.

'In 2011, the Government announced a recruitment drive to increase the number of health visitors across England. It wants to hire 4,200 more by April 2015. I originally trained as a mental health nurse, but when I heard about this campaign I decided to re-train.

'Good communication, documentation and social skills are vital in this job, as is compassion. I'm proud of what I do - health visiting is a good service that very few countries have, and one that really benefits families.'

CV

- Qualifications

BTEC in Sports Science, Fareham College, 2003

Mental Health Nursing advanced diploma, University of Southampton, 2006

Degree in specialist community public health nursing, health visiting, Brunel University, 2012

Regular professional development courses on subjects including child development, safeguarding and domestic violence.

- Employment history

2006-2008 - staff nurse at an NHS medium-secure psychiatric forensic unit

2008 - staff nurse at a private mental health unit focused on people with addictions and depression (six months)

2008-2011 - older-person's mental health staff nurse at NHS St James' Hospital in Portsmouth, focusing on dementia

2012 to present - health visitor at the Wembley Centre for Health & Care


TRAINING

Any qualified and registered nurse or midwife can become a health visitor, no matter what branch of nursing they have followed (adult, child, learning disability or mental health).The full-time degree level qualification in specialist community public health nursing/health visiting takes one year, or longer for part time. No minimum period of post-registration experience is required.

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