Kent County Council has relaunched controversial plans to change how breastfeeding support in Kent is offered, just two months after the first consultation was withdrawn.
Critics says that the changes will leave vulnerable mums and babies without crucial support when they need it most.
The proposed changes to infant feeding support in the county were originally launched on July 18. The council called for a consultation to decide whether specialist support provided by community interest group PSBreastfeeding CIC should be absorbed into the local NHS Health Visiting Service.
KCC report that the changes would save up to £404,000.
What changes to breastfeeding support will happen under new plans?
There are currently 17 specialist drop-in clinics across Kent staffed by Lactation Consultants and Breastfeeding Counsellors, as well as 23 breastfeeding groups run by trained Breastfeeding Peer Supporters.
These would be replaced with 36 Child Health Clinics run by HVS, and only four specialist clinics. These would be run by Lactation Consultants and HVS’ Infant Feeding Leads, with breastfeeding support reduced to referral or appointment only.
Volunteer infant feeding peer supporters will replace the current Breastfeeding Counsellors. Home visits will be offered where necessary, but on a limited basis depending upon capacity.
A spokesman for the Council said: “Now that the HVS has increased its capacity to deliver the full range of infant feeding support, it is able to take on the service as part of its core activities.
“The HVS model of infant feeding is expected to offer improved outcomes around all types of infant feeding and will provide a holistic and integrated approach to supporting families with young children.”
“Shocking and disappointing”
Campaigners against the proposal say that the loss of specialist services will have a detrimental effect of mums.
Tannice Hemming, who set up Keep Kent Breastfeeding in response to the first consultation, said that campaigners are disappointed and surprised by the move.
“[After a previous meeting] we felt like they really listened to us and heard why we were concerned about the proposal,” she said.
“That’s why this new release is so shocking and disappointing. We feel like we’ve been fobbed off.
There are also concerns about the effect of removing ‘open access’ to breastfeeding specialists.
Tannice adds: “Newborns need feeding 8-12 times per day, at the very least, so it’s little to no comfort that women needing help will be contacted ‘within’ 24 hours.”
“Other concerns revolve around tongue tie – in East Kent alone, there are 11 tongue tie frenulotomy appointments a week. This represents an absolute minimum of 88 specialist consultations per month in East Kent. Under KCC’s proposals, there are simply not enough appointment slots.”
“The need for the additional service has passed”
KCC Cabinet Member for Public Health, Peter Oakford, said: “The original plan was to commission an interim breastfeeding support service until the Health Visiting Service had the capacity to take on this work. Now that the number of health visitors has increased, we are more than able to provide this service to a good standard.
“Our focus has been on making sure that the offer from the NHS Health Visiting Service is appropriate and will meet the needs of all Kent families, including breastfeeding services. In light of the Health Visiting Services’ capacity to now deliver the full range of infant feeding support, the need for the additional service has passed.”
KCC will continue to meet with women using the service to discuss the issue through the consultation period.