Parents share views about Dorset’s health visiting service - Public Health Dorset


Parents share views about Dorset’s health visiting service

Earlier this year, we asked for parents’ and carers’ views about health visiting services in Dorset. We had a great response with about 1,500 people letting us know their thoughts and experiences. We can now reveal what these views were.

Health visiting service assessing baby

Healthy start: We sought views from parents and carers about health visiting services.


By Paul Compton and Fiona Johnson

Getting off to the right start in life is essential. It’s often these early years that will influence healthy behaviours in later life. 

To support this, we commission the health visiting service across Dorset, including Bournemouth and Poole.

Health visitors give information, advice and support from late pregnancy and through the first five years of life.

In June and July, we asked parents and carers to give their views about health visiting services. This was so we could review and improve the service offered across Dorset.

To gather parents’ views, we did two things. We met with parents at groups across Dorset and we asked parents and carers to complete an online survey. This all combined with views and experiences we gathered from health visiting staff.


To have in-depth discussions with parents, we visited 21 different children centres and community groups across Dorset.

We talked to 162 parents. This included younger parents, parents of children with additional needs, and parents from different ethnic backgrounds.

We also focused on areas where we know there is a higher need for health visiting support.

Online survey

An online survey took place over four weeks in June and July. We promoted it on social media, enewsletters and websites specifically targeted at parents and carers. Dorset HealthCare also sent 17,000 text messages to parents.

There was just under 1,200 responses to the online survey. These were from people across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset. The largest majority of respondents were aged 30-39 (63%), with parents under 25 being less well represented at just 5%.

One limitation of the survey is that it captured the mother’s views and not that of fathers who only represented 1% of the respondents.

Positive views

We had many views from parents, which were mostly positive. Parents also told us some areas where they would like to see improvements. Here are some of the findings:

  • The majority of parents in the face-to-face discussions and 69% of those taking part in the online survey, had a good experience from their health visiting service.
  • Face-to-face respondents said that health visiting teams gave them consistent messages.
  • Health visiting teams have the right information to hand to share with parents.
  • Parents valued home visits in the early weeks, drop-ins and under one’s groups.
  • Parents of older children (three to five years) taking apart in the online survey reported less satisfaction with the service than those with younger children.

The six high impact areas were all shown to be important areas for parents. The support received for the following three areas was the most positive:

  • Becoming a parent and the early weeks (67%)
  • Mental health of the mother (62%)
  • Development check at two to two-and-a-half (60%)

The support for the other three areas was slightly less positive:

  • Preventing minor illnesses and accidents (55%)
  • Breastfeeding (53%)
  • Healthy weight, nutrition and physical activity (50%)

Areas for improvement

In the survey, 15% reported poor experience. Areas for improvement included:

  • The health visitor and parent relationship.
  • Access to health visitors and service.
  • Advice and support around feeding.
  • Having to leave an answer machine message and wait for a call back. Some parents valued text messaging facilities or email.
  • Younger parents would like easier access to more personalised support. This included support outside normal working hours.
  • Inconsistent messages between health visiting teams and other health professionals, such as midwives and GPs.
  • Breastfeeding is an area with mixed responses, some parents felt pressurised to breastfeed while others wanted more support.
  • Some parents of children with additional needs were unclear about the support available. They felt that, once referred to specialist services, there was no further contact from the health visiting team.
  • A small number of parents from across all areas mentioned allergies or food intolerance. Parents reported that they lacked support for this from the health visiting team and the wider system.
  • Parents valued the consistency of staff.

Next steps

Our next task is to add these views to the other information we have about people’s needs, service data and views from health visiting teams. We will now decide on what is the best and most effective service that health visitors can offer to families across Dorset. Once this work starts, we will report back on progress early next year.

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