Approval of Nottinghamshire healthy families plan to be reconsidered after opposition call-in

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Nottinghamshire Council will review a decision to approve its healthy families programme after opposition concerns about parts of the plan.

The authority’s programme sets out ways to support families across the county “from 2024 and beyond”, with a range of public health measures included.

The decision to approve the document was made during the council’s March cabinet meeting, but its approval will now be reviewed after the decision was ‘called in’ for further scrutiny by the opposition Labour Group.

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Concerns related to references of private, pre-decision meetings being held prior to the item being presented in public to the cabinet.

County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire Council.County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire Council.
County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire Council.

A report, published ahead of the March meeting, said “informal dialogue” was provided to opposition parties before they then agreed to support the plans.

However, Labour said there were elements of the plan where they were “categorically unsupportive”.

They said they were not presented with “comprehensive options” during the private meetings, meaning they were not “well-informed enough to be supportive”.

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Their concerns related to references of the county’s health visitor service being recommissioned in its current format.

The service is an NHS-backed scheme where families are visited by healthcare workers both before and following the birth of a child.

Five of these in-person visits should be held from late pregnancy to the child reaching about two-and-a-half years old.

However, concerns about the service have been raised in recent health scrutiny committee meetings.

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Councillors say some children have fallen “through the cracks” of the scheme due to a drop-off in in-person visits caused by Covid lockdowns.

Labour felt the healthy families programme could not be approved while agreeing to recommission the service and called for the decision to be reviewed.

It led to the group securing an extraordinary overview committee to scrutinise the decision.

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Coun Kate Foale, Labour Group leader, said recommissioning the service in its current format ignored the group’s previously-raised concerns and the way the decision was handled was “unconstitutional”.

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She said: “I have very serious safeguarding concerns about the healthy families programme and specifically how the health visitor service is expected to be delivered.

“We were and remain convinced that the service cannot be delivered safely and comprehensibly in this way.

“The health visitor programme is supposed to act early to reduce the adverse impact of psychosocial issues such as parenting capacity, domestic violence, mental health issues and substance misuse.

“Our concern is several visits were made by telephone and between 600 and 800 babies were not seen.

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“Without proper, transparent public scrutiny, really bad things can happen to our children.”

Now the authority has confirmed the healthy families programme decision will be revisited.

Opposition councillors will be asked for input on changes to the programme, particularly around the health visitor plans.

Coun Ben Bradley, council leader, said: “It’s helpful to have had this call-in process. I recognise some of the challenges, which we will go away and consider.

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“We have committed to take the [healthy families programme] away and to come to a more informed decision.

“When we’ve had a proper chance to consider that, we will come back and debate those at the next cabinet meeting.”