Today’s post is from Zoe Walsh, a doula and trainee Breastfeeding Counsellor in Blackpool who is joining us to speak out against the cuts to breastfeeding support during ‘Breastfeeding Celebration Week’. If, like us, you feel there really isn’t much to celebrate (other than the amazing families who breastfeed in spite of the lack of support and those who struggle and stop – these are the people we should be celebrating) please do comment. If you’d like to add a blog post to this section, please contact me. After Celebration Week, we will be sending them all to NHS England to demonstrate why we find it frankly insulting that the only ‘celebrating’ they are doing is publishing a few blog posts by the Chief Nurse. Well, we can blog too! Read on for Zoe’s round up of the cuts in Blackpool.
The pre-existing voluntary breastfeeding support service was commissioned around 10 years ago to provide breastfeeding support across Blackpool (a unitary authority). In its day, the commission, known as Star Buddies, provided:
- antenatal education
- support on the wards in the hospital, including dedicated neo-natal support and children’s ward if needed
- specialist support for women with diabetes
- contact from a Star Buddy within 48hrs of leaving the ward and up to 6 weeks support by text/phone/home visits
- drop-in groups available around the patch on different days.
Over recent years the service has seen funding reductions and had to adapt to new commissioning requirements (including delivering smoking cessation). However a core provision still provided face to face and telephone support on the ward and in the community, one to one and in groups. In May 2017 we discovered that the contract would end in June 2017.
In a series of discussions and meetings we were told that the previous commissioned project wasn’t working because the 6-8wk duration figures hadn’t increased and this was the sole reason for complete removal of the entire project. Evidence showing the figures did increase by 50% in the initial years of the commission was ignored and dismissed. All of the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) set were met, the final service review clearly demonstrated that fact. And anyway, the 6-8wk data was not part of the KPIs.
Public Health have been very clear that the guidance is just guidance – in other words, not mandatory. They are adamant that ‘peer support doesn’t work’ because they have invested in it for so long and in their opinion it hasn’t made a difference.
They told us the decision to cut funding was not a financial decision but based on this perceived failure to increase duration figures.
Despite local media coverage, a petition of over 1000 signatures and a public protest outside the Local Authority/Public Health offices, there was no change in their stance. After presenting our case to Blackpool Council, the Leader of the Council was very receptive and we were hopeful of change, however the matter has since been passed up to the Chief Executive and we continue to have meetings in which nothing changes.
In contrast to the message we received from Public Health, The Chief Executive of the Council is very clear that the decision was based on funding cuts and was absolutely a financial decision.
Interestingly, Blackpool is a recipient of A Better Start funding. The town has £45million to spend over a 10 year period to improve outcomes for 0-5s. Yes, you read that right – £45million.
Yet it is since this investment in the town that the breastfeeding peer support has been removed. Initially we were told that the Enhanced Health Visitor offer, which was being delivered as a result of A Better Start, would ‘replace’ the need for breastfeeding peer support. The commissioned service ended in June 2017 and the enhanced HV programme began in April 2018. The £1million transformation of HV service has added 2 contacts to the previous Blackpool offer, so now families receive 8 visits in total. The first visit is pre-birth and the 2nd is around 10-14 days. We know there is a gap.
The points we have made about the difference between support from a peer, and support from a health care professional have gone largely ignored. Recently Public Health/A Better Start have been exploring options of providing community support (i.e people within the community supporting each other) with breastfeeding issues. These supporters will be from across the local communities, men and women with and without children and with or without any experience of breastfeeding. There is no clear plan for how these people from the community will be trained or supported to manage this task. All of the experience that had built up over a 10 year project has now been lost from Blackpool.
Breastfeeding is now considered a term too loaded to use, even the more inclusive ‘infant feeding’ is being sidelined under the new banner of healthy eating. The initial draft I saw of the Healthy Eating Strategy didn’t mention breastfeeding at all. It didn’t even refer to infant feeding, but did include safe preparation of formula.
Public Health and A Better Start invited us to help them find a slogan to encourage more breastfeeding. Given that we understand their responsibility to not only promote but to protect and support breastfeeding, we declined to help without the other 2 legs of the stool in place.
In National Breastfeeding week we are involved in 2 events in our town. The first is a celebration of the hard work and dedication of the volunteers who, despite all the obstacles, are doing all they can to support the women who seek them out.
To recognise, for example, the 1 woman who runs the only breastfeeding drop-in group in Blackpool and who for a long time, was the only person supporting women on the ward, all as a volunteer.
In this event we will have a bumper breastfeeding group, supported by ABM, BfN, LLL, NBH, LCBG and the commissioned project for Lancashire, Families and Babies.
The second event will be to protest once again. its been a year since we protested with the hope we could change things. We intend to demonstrate to the Council and to Public Health that we will not be ignored and we will not go away, because women and their babies matter to us. We understand that Public Health have a responsibility to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. We intend to help them meet their responsibility.
Find out more about the Blackpool campaign here.
If you live in or near to London, please get down to Parliament Square for a breastfeeding sit-in on Tuesday 26 June 1-4pm. Bring your banners saying “End breastfeeding cuts” as well as your local banners. If you live further north, please get over to join the Blackpool protest 10-11am on Wednesday 27 June at Bickerstaffe Square.