‘The absence of early detection and preventative interventions will lead to more serious difficulties being identified at a later period’
Public health nurse developmental checks for babies were recently withdrawn by the HSE in several areas around the country.
Rather than the standard early year developmental checks by a public health nurse, the PSI said this system is moving to one of “prioritisation” in certain areas, meaning that only young children with proven medical risk or need will be seen.
The PSI said this withdrawal of service will lead to more “severity of illness” and “longer-term health conditions for these children and parents because of this delay” as well as a “costly burden”.
PSI president Dr Vincent McDarby said the public health nurse system was a national service in Ireland, but this will now change.
“The absence of early detection and preventative interventions will lead to more serious difficulties being identified at a later period and, therefore, have a costly impact on baby, child, and family,” he said.
The PSI’s special interest group in perinatal and infant mental health and special interest group in paediatric psychology have outlined the importance of public health nurse home visits in the early years.
The groups said these home visits are an “essential community-based service” to promote and protect the health of the population.
Public health nurses usually meet families during the first three days at home to assess and provide advice for a range of difficulties including feeding, safe sleep, child safety, bonding, and connecting with your infant.
They also identify and provide information and advice to parents experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression and support parents in having confidence in their own parenting role.
Visits are also available at intervals for the first three and a half years of a child’s life to support the continued development, assess for developmental delay, and identify follow-up for any potential underlying conditions.
It is known that women and men are at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety in the first year following the birth of their baby.
The PSI’s special interest groups said home visits provide an “essential lifeline” to the emotional wellbeing of new parents, supporting them to understand if their mood difficulties are more than just ‘baby blues’ and advising them where to get help if needed.
The association said visits address “practical and care” concerns with a new baby but also highlight ways to “connect and enhance” the relationship between baby and parent.
It said there is an established body of research that indicates that early relationships lay the foundation and template for later social and emotional development.
This withdrawal of service will lead to more severity of illness and longer-term health conditions for these children and parents because of this delay.