Healthy Start is a UK-wide government scheme to improve the health of low-income pregnant women and families with young children on benefits and tax credits. It provides a great opportunity for health professionals and others working with pregnant women and families to offer encouragement, information and advice on issues such as healthy eating, breastfeeding and vitamins.
Health professionals also play a key role in the application process and in signposting the availability of the free Healthy Start vitamins.
All applications for Healthy Start must, by law, be supported by a registered health professional – usually a midwife or health visitor (but it can be any registered nurse or doctor). Requiring the application form to be signed by a health professional aims to encourage low-income women and families to contact local antenatal, postnatal and child health services, making a clear link between the scheme and broader health and public health priorities.
Booking and social care assessments are ideal opportunities to promote the scheme. Many maternity units include a copy of the application leaflet in their information packs. It’s also a good idea to note applications for Healthy Start in pregnancy notes and child health records.
Research shows that women who are introduced to the scheme by a health professional who takes time to explain its public health context and health benefits are more likely to view it as a partnership with them to benefit the health of their child, rather than as a simple financial contribution. They may therefore be more likely to make best use of the scheme.
Countersigning the application form
A midwife, health visitor or other registered health professional must complete and sign Part B of the application leaflet to confirm the expected date of delivery and/or the dates of birth of any children under four years old. It is important that Part B is fully completed, or the application cannot be processed.
Part B also asks the health professional to confirm that they have provided appropriate advice on breastfeeding and healthy eating, providing a specific opportunity to offer key information on these issues – including the importance of vitamin supplements. Many also find it helpful to talk about other relevant services, and it is important to explain where Healthy Start vitamin supplements are available locally so that families know how to access them easily.
Health professionals should not charge for signing applications. This is a means-tested statutory Welfare Food Scheme. GPs are legally able to sign the form, and it is helpful if they do so if asked during a routine appointment on a related matter. If they prefer not to do so, it is important that they clearly advise applicants to ask their midwife or health visitor. If reception staff are made aware of a GP’s position on signing forms, they can direct applicants appropriately.
Health professionals are not expected to check that an applicant is getting the benefits they claim to be – we’ll do that. Nor do they need to report any subsequent changes in an applicant’s circumstances – it’s the applicant’s responsibility.