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Kent County Council cutting breastfeeding services

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Councillors have approved plans to cut breastfeeding services across the county.

Kent County Council announced this afternoon that lactation special consultation services – visited more than 5,500 times by mothers last year – will be reduced in a bid to save money.

The new model will mean health visitors will provide 36 weekly drop-in breastfeeding sessions at various sites across the county.

Breastfeeding services are being cut across Kent
Breastfeeding services are being cut across Kent

However, campaigners say the number of specialist clinics, where mothers can meet with a lactaction consultant, will drop from 17 locations down to six.

The council said it will save the authority £400,000 a year.

Under the plans, the operation of the clinics will be transferred from support group PS Breastfeeding CIC and to NHS Health Visiting Services when its contract runs out in April.

Lactation consultant Anna Le Grange, who set up the original petition against the proposals, said: "I welcome the fact that there will be 36 breastfeeding groups a week and this would not be too different from what we have now but it would be with health visitors and not lactation consultants.

"At the moment, any mother could go to one of 17 centres in the county without an appointment and will be seen straight away by a lactation consultant.

"If my maths is correct, the new plans would mean there will be 24 clinics per month, which is six locations per week."

Campaign group Keep Kent Breastfeeding was set up last year in response to concerns the clinics would be reduced from 17 to four.

Cllr Peter Oakford
Cllr Peter Oakford

Ms Le Grange added: “This is slightly more than we thought so it would be an extra two but it is still not as many as we have now.

"We have no idea where these clinics would be and I worry about mothers in rural areas like the Isle of Sheppey who may have to travel to Maidstone for a specialist."

Cllr Peter Oakford, who is in charge of public health at the council, said the new plans would mean more flexibility as all healthcare for new mothers would be provided by Kent NHS Health Visiting Service.

He said: "This provides opportunity for us to extend the reach of our service with more flexibility as the health visiting service is universal and available to every family with a child of pre-school age.

"We have recognised that the previous investment in breastfeeding was relatively small, and that only a small proportion of families eligible for support could access the service.

"As a result, the new model embeds breastfeeding support into health visiting, to offer the opportunity for support to all families with children under five-years-old across Kent."

He also criticised claims by campaigners that health visitors are not suitably qualified and added they are looking to train more lactation consultants.

Cllr Oakford said: "Health visitors are nurses or midwives who have received further higher education in public health and are on the Nursing and Midwifery Council Register as Specialist Community Public Health Nurses.

"Lactation consultants – with exactly the same qualifications as in the current model – will continue to be employed."

Liberal Democrat campaigner Hannah Perkin, who volunteered at the Faversham clinic, said: “With severely limited access to breastfeeding support, many new mums will have to travel a considerable distance for help and advice – this will hit the poorest hardest.

“There is no handover process and the mums will be the ones to suffer whilst they iron things out. The concerns of local women have been ignored and I am very saddened by this news. Women and children in Kent deserve better than this.”

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