Opinion

Student voices during Covid-19

22 May 2020

Two health visitor students offer their honest accounts of what life’s been like since the pandemic hit, and share their concerns in the process.  

Charlotte Grant
Qualified midwife and student health visitor, London  
lottielivewell.com

Training during a pandemic 

Being a SCPHN student during Covid-19 has been a strange and unsettling experience. Considering the speed and depth of the one-year course, which is challenging already, with placement grinding to a halt, and students within different boroughs facing different challenges, it seems like Covid-19 has turned everything upside down.

It appears that some students have been redeployed, some are carrying on with their normal placement but remotely, and some of us, like myself, are stuck in limbo. I could be redeployed to an adult nursing team (I am a midwife), but at the moment I am unable to continue my placement.

This means my course will most likely be extended. I have been sitting my exams remotely, which has been different, but at least academically the course is continuing as normal.

'It’s been very frustrating as a qualified healthcare professional not being able to support areas that need help, but I have faith that slowly we will regain some normality'

I’m not sure what the future holds for us. The course is condensed, with a lot to get through in a short amount of time, and now that Covid-19 has come along and interrupted that, I’ll be waiting patiently to see what the next steps are.

There seem to be few answers at the moment – I’ve spoken to the NMC, the university and my placement trust, but no one really knows anything for certain yet and we are taking everything one step at a time.

A unique experience

It’s been very frustrating as a qualified healthcare professional not being able to support areas that have needed help, but I’m in an unusual position, and I understand that my university and placement trust are trying to protect me and my learning experience.

To date (it’s the end of April) I’ve received nothing but support, kind words and a sense of hope that things will be picked up again once the world starts to return to normal. For now, the kindness, honesty and good health of my colleagues is enough.

I have faith that slowly we will regain some normality and I will be an HV one day – it’ll just take a little longer than planned. (In May I went back on my placement remotely!).

Training in public health during a pandemic has been a unique experience, and one that will hopefully make mea more insightful, inquisitive and inspired practitioner.

 


Helen Wood
Qualified midwife and student health visitor, Buckinghamshire  
@HelenLou72 

A student plea…another call to action 

Last October, MPs scrutinised the health visiting crisis that has been intensifying since the expiration of the Health Visitor Implementation Plan in 2015. At a Westminster Hall debate, Unite called upon the health minister to respond to how the government planned to address the crisis that the health visiting service was facing (Unite, 2019).  

Now, in 2020, even before Covid-19, we find ourselves in a parallel crisis to that faced in 2009 (Waters, 2019).  

The reality 

We are battling against a 31% reduction in the number of HVs in England since 2015, dropping from 10,309 in October 2015 to 7026 in June 2019, exacerbated further by natural attrition and waning student numbers (Unite, 2019).

During this time, austerity measures have further compounded the strain, with many charities and organisations unable to offer additional support for vulnerable families, suspending services and declining further referrals due to an insufficient capacity.

For families, job insecurity, low income and a paucity of affordable housing are the real consequences of such measures. With Britain ranked one of the richest countries in the world, it seems inconceivable that 4.1 million children in the UK are living in poverty (Adebowale, 2018).  

Diminishing local authority budgets have also forced changes to the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme (HCP), making it impossible to deliver gold standard practice [though it is a postcode lottery in England]. Such cost-cutting has compromised the care offered and the opportunity of continuity, minimised contacts and stripped HVs of their specialist skills. In doing so, it has lowered morale and job satisfaction (Jozwiak, 2018).

Challenge to value

As a student HV, I came into the service with enthusiasm and optimism. Just a few months ago in our first semester,  a passionate representative encouraged us to have our political voice heard and raise the kudos of health visiting along with the value of our practice.

As Covid-19 continues to tighten its grip (I write this at the end of March), the call for suspension of service delivery is threatened in order to facilitate redeployment. However, if delivery of the HCP is able to be suspended, with no safety net for our families, my question is: what message is that giving the government and the perception of value for our service?  

I feel it will be detrimental, not least to all the families we serve: in particular our vulnerable families, but also to the pursuit of reinforcing the value of our role.

I believe we can still provide essential and valuable support to our community, particularly at this unique and challenging time when families may need us more than ever

The vision 

With innovative and flexible working (which is now gathering pace), I feel we can explore unique ways of accessing our families, identifying health needs and ensuring that prevention remains at the centre. I believe we can still provide essential and valuable support to our community, particularly at this unique and challenging time when in fact families may need us more than ever.  

The suspension of services and social support networks has the potential to intensify isolation, compound mental health issues, compromise child health and fail to adequately safeguard our vulnerable children – these are fast becoming the few priorities we have left.

I feel that this is an opportunity to demonstrate our value and service via new, innovative and creative approaches, potentially alleviating the strain on the 111 service, GP surgeries, and A&E, mediating the effects of financial hardship by organising food parcels, monitoring our vulnerable children and attempting to deliver a preventative service via new channels.  

This is not an attempt to boycott redeployment; it is a call to be heard, an appeal to safeguard the children and families within our community and a plea for careful consideration of the consequences if we do not continue to deliver our service during this extraordinary time.  

By the very nature of our vocation, HVs care very deeply about the health and wellbeing of our communities. I fear with health visiting services being suspended, the individual and societal costs will be long endured.  

 

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