After yesterday’s release of Kent County Council’s second infant feeding consultation, today Keep Kent Breastfeeding campaigners reacted with anger, disappointment and surprise. “There’s simply nothing really different about this consultation” said Tannice Hemming, who created keepkentbreastfeeding.org. “I’m simply stunned that after meeting with the council and putting across our concerns, they’ve simply either ignored what we said or just not seen it as a priority for public health”.
Several campaigners, some of whom are current users of the service and others who are involved in a professional or voluntary capacity, met with the council back in September. Initial response from campaigners to the council’s response in the meeting were favourable. “We felt like they really listened to us and heard why we were concerned about the proposal” said Mrs Hemming, who volunteers as a breastfeeding peer supporter and is an expectant mother of one. “That’s why this new release is so shocking and disappointing. We feel like we’ve been fobbed off.”
The campaigners have several concerns, but top of the list is the plan to completely slash open access to breastfeeding specialists. Currently, those who visit many of the drop-in breastfeeding groups available around the county can, if they need to, see an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a Breastfeeding Counsellor. Access to Breastfeeding Counsellors is being removed entirely from the new service, which will now be run by Health Visitors and the re-named ‘infant feeding peer supporters’. Access to IBCLCs will be by appointment only in just 4 clinics across the county. Campaigners say they’re extremely concerned that this will mean waiting for far too long. 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.
“It’s not right to expect women to wait up to 24 hours for help – the problems often mean moderate to severe damage to women’s nipples, making them absolutely dread feeding their new baby. 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. This is just one facet of specialist work, that has a referral pathway” said Hannah Croft, a breastfeeding counsellor, concerned mum and keen Keep Kent Breastfeeding campaigner.
The council argue that the current service is ‘over-providing’, but figures provided by the incumbent provider, PSB CIC, paint a wholly different picture. Last quarter, Health Visitors made 391 referrals to PSB, which suggest they are currently ill-equipped to deal with the demand and type of queries women have. What’s more, campaigners have raised queries about what will happen to the mothers of babies under 10 days old as they are under midwifery, not the health service. Last quarter, PSB CIC received 436 referrals from midwifery. This is not addressed by the consultation.
Campaigners emphasise that they are not trying to be critical of Health Visitors – they simply wish to highlight that the role of a Health Visitor is not compatible with the often complex and involved business of helping new (and more seasoned) mothers to breastfeed effectively. They consider the loss of breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants to be a huge detriment to the future of Kent’s already low breastfeeding rates and, potentially the health of Kent’s future generations.