Published: 00:01, 22 November 2017
Specialist breastfeeding support could be scrapped in Swale in a move that may have major implications for mothers across the county.
Kent County Council has proposed the NHS Health Visiting Service take over responsibility for the provision of support and advice for mums wishing to breastfeed their babies.
The contract with provider PS Breastfeeding CIC is due to end in March 2018.
In July, KCC started consulting about health visitors delivering the support but families and health professionals raised concerns and the consultation stalled.
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It was then re-launched on October 23. The move would save KCC £400,000 a year.
Sarah Wood, a breastfeeding counsellor at Seashells Children and Families Centre in Sheerness, said the changes would have a huge knock-on effect for many families and babies in the borough - and beyond.
She said: “We are really concerned that, with these proposals, the services are going to be less local.
"Mums that need help on Sheppey or in Sittingbourne might have to go to Maidstone or Canterbury for help, and that’s only if they can get there.
“We want to publicise the fact that this is happening. There will be women left behind with nowhere to turn if this goes ahead.”
Every week across Kent, PS Breastfeeding CIC offers 17 specialist clinics and 21 breastfeeding peer support clinics, staffed by volunteers and breastfeeding counsellors.
These would be replaced with 36 breastfeeding clinics run by health visitors and four specialist clinics a week across the county – one in East Kent (Maidstone, Swale and Canterbury), one in West Kent (Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Malling and Ashford), one in North Kent (Dartford, Gravesham and Sevenoaks) and one in Kent Coastal (Shepway, Dover, Deal and Thanet).
Children’s centres at Milton Court, Sittingbourne, Seashells in Sheerness, and St Mary’s, Faversham, would no longer have a breastfeeding specialist.
Concerned mums are due to march on Maidstone's County Hall to hand over a petition decrying the overhaul today.
Cllr Peter Oakford, KCC cabinet member for public health, said: “The original plan was to commission an interim breastfeeding support service until the Health Visiting Service had the capacity to take on this work.
“Now that the number of health visitors has increased, we are more than able to provide this service to a good standard.”
The consultation closes on December 3.
Mother Kimberley Meader said she was very worried about the proposals.
The 36-year-old, pictured with son Oscar, four months, has two other children. Nicholas, 11, and Bonnie, three.
She said: “From a mum’s point of view, I have needed the service and without it I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed my last two children.
"I didn’t feed my first child as I didn’t have the support. I tried but the support wasn’t there.”
The Minster resident added: “All three of my children have been tongue tied, so it was really difficult for me to feed them.
"If it wasn’t for the help and knowledge behind breastfeeding, I’d never have been able to do it.
“I would be able to travel, as I drive, but it’s going to be a lot harder.
“When you’re already struggling, it’s the motivation to get out of bed in the morning to make that trip, which will take an hour, and you’ve got to get the children ready and so on. It’s just another barrier.”
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