HC Deb 15 March 1999 vol 327 cc692-3
3. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What responses have been received from organisations representing health visitors to the consultation document, "Supporting Families". [74579]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

While responses to the document are still being logged, we have so far received almost 200 responses from health care trusts, health care organisations and individuals in the medical profession. We have at least five responses from local centres of the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and a co-ordinated response from the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting. All of them showed considerable support for our proposals to expand the role of health visitors.

Dr. Starkey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. When I spoke to the health visitors in Milton Keynes, they generally supported the document, but they were concerned that they might be asked to interfere in people's personal relationships. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is envisaged that the role of health visitors will be to support and advise families, not to police people's personal relationships?

Mr. Straw

I can confirm that. One of the reasons why health visitors are held in such trust and confidence by people is that they are seen as a source of independent advice and counselling, and not as part of the agencies of social control, which are necessary, but in which—happily—the health visitors are not involved.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Home Secretary agree that health visitors provide an invaluable service and do their jobs extraordinarily well? When he considers the responses to the consultation paper, will he also consider—taking into account the point made by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey)—a graded system so that health visitors continue to call, beyond the usual arrangements, on families that are considered to be high risk?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is very important and I shall certainly take it forward.