Additional health visitor training improves wellbeing and reduces NHS costs

Study co-authored by Leicester researcher shows cost-effective solution can improve maternity services

New research involving a University of Leicester health scientist has found that providing additional training for health visitors to prevent new mothers from developing symptoms of postnatal depression resulted in significant cost-savings. The effect on mothers’ quality of life was the same with the added training as it would be with standard health visitor services.

Led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and funded by the NIHR, the cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted on data from a study of 1,459 mothers who were deemed at ‘lower-risk’ of developing postnatal depression, who received care from specially trained health visitors - nurses based in community settings, such as health centres and family centres.

The study looked at outcomes for mothers receiving ‘usual care’ from health visitors, and compared them with the outcomes for mothers receiving care from health visitors with additional training to assess for postnatal depression and provide psychological support. The findings provide strong evidence that the training programme was a cost-effective way to prevent depression six months after childbirth in mothers at lower risk of depression, even though psychological intervention sessions were not specifically intended for them.

Other research has found up to one in five women may experience mental illness after giving birth, with around half of these cases going undetected. Leaving postnatal depression untreated can have long-term negative consequences for women and adverse effects on child development.

Professor Terry Brugha from our Department of Health Sciences and co-author of the study said: “In the NHS, Health Visitor and Community Midwife colleagues are extremely keen to implement this cost-effective mental health prevention training programme in their maternity services as soon as possible.”

Catherine Henderson, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at LSE, said: The findings add to our knowledge about the contribution that universal, non-specialist services can make to the identification, prevention and reduction of perinatal mental illness. Health visitors can play an important part in delivering cost-effective services to women at lower risk of perinatal depression.