Health visiting: the public health role


Martin Smith, East Lancashire Public Health Network, 33 Eagle Street, Accrington, Lancashire BB5 1LN, UK.


United Kingdom (UK) government policy advocates the development of a family-centred public health role for health visitors. Studies have suggested that barriers and constraints exist to hinder the development of a public health role. However, few of these have considered the issues from a practitioner perspective.

Aim.  The aim of the study was to examine the constraints on developing a family-centred public health role in a health visiting service.

Methods.  An exploratory study was carried out using focus groups with 27 health visitors in one primary health care trust in North West England. Data were transcribed and analysed to identify themes.

Findings.  Elements of practice that contributed to public health were identified, along with constraints on the development of a family-centred public health role. Three themes were generated from the health visitor focus group discussions as a framework for addressing the constraints: connecting to public health, clarifying the role and changing practice.

Conclusions.  The study sets out the challenge faced in developing the public health roles of practitioners. Leadership is essential for clarifying the public health role, developing networks between public health and practitioners, and supporting change in practice. Despite the limitations of the study, its findings, together with evidence from previous literature, suggest that there are common issues that face health visiting services in the UK as they seek to develop the public health role.