A campaign has been launched against changes to breastfeeding services in Kent.
Kent County Council has launched a consultation into plans to remove funding from the current provider, PS Breastfeeding CIC, and have services dealt with by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) instead.
The move, planned to begin from January 1, 2018, would save KCC of £404,000 a year.
The service now
Breastfeeding support, and information regarding formula feeding, is currently offered to all parents through health visitor staff such as antenatal, new birth visits and 6-8 week contact, as well as within community based drop-in sessions.
Those who need extra help can be signposted to the Community Infant Feeding support provided by PS Breastfeeding CIC. The service is open access, so women can also refer themselves.
PS Breastfeeding CIC also provides the Kent Baby Matters website which has a searchable website for clinics and drop-in sessions across Kent and runs social media accounts.
The change KCC is proposing will bring PS Breastfeeding CIC services inhouse – through those already working as health visitors.
KCC says there will also be new ‘baby hubs’ at Millmead, Callis and Priory childrens’ centres. Services are currently provided at Millmead, Priory and Newington.
KCC says the changes will not cut the number of peer support volunteers but there will be fewer lactation clinics available and they will no longer be open access.
The current website and social media pages would also shut.
A PSBreastfeeding CIC statement says: “We currently provide 17 specialists clinics every week across Kent. You can access their expertise when you are pregnant and after baby is born.
“You don’t need an appointment, and you don’t need permission to come. The proposed changes don’t even mention all the amazing breastfeeding counsellors that provide amazing services across Kent at the moment and call for only 4 clinics each week across Kent. That’s 1 clinic for every 3 districts/boroughs.
“You will need to be referred by a healthcare provider and you will receive an appointment. Of course appointments are a great idea. We’ve tried it ourselves during this contract. However, we have found so many more benefits to having drop-in clinics (in addition to the cost savings). Families with new infants often find it more challenging getting out of the house on time.
“Responsive feeding means that often babies are not hungry when we need them to be, so having the opportunity to stay longer at the clinic to wait for baby to wake up means we are better able to assess feeding.
” We found that 30-45 minutes would be the average amount of time needed for an appointment. In January 2017 there were 109 visits to a specialist clinic, in February 2017 there were 131 visits, and in March 2017 there were 127 visits. That’s over 28 appointments every week (at least 14-21 hours of clinic time).”
The online petition by Kent Baby Matters against the changes states: “Kent County Council is cutting funding to the current provider of breastfeeding support services in the community. Because their new plans involve cutting specialists and, instead, adding responsibilities to the workload of more generalist nurses, these plans will most likely significantly affect the quality of the support that women can expect to receive.
“In addition, this will probably mean that fewer women will be able to make appointments and receive the support they need.”
Billie Mason, who is Thanet’s breastfeeding support lead, is urging people to sign the petition to save the current service. A Save Thanet Breastfeeding Services facebook page has also been created.
A statement on the page says: “This proposed model undermines the specific struggles that breastfeeding mother’s face. It denies them access to a designated breastfeeding group. It takes away the safe space for support, friendship and access to evidence based information that breastfeeding families rely on.
“This is unacceptable and we will fight to keep this service for mothers and babies. Unlike other districts in Kent, Thanet currently has no charity run peer support groups so this proposed change leaves Thanet mums with no breastfeeding peer support groups at all.
“This is only a proposed change, with enough momentum we can stop this catastrophic cut to local breastfeeding services. Please invite any one to join who you feel will want to help us fight to keep designated breastfeeding services available to all families in Thanet.”
The consultation runs from now until September 3.