Malcolm advocates intense home health visiting for children in vulnerable families
Debate on the Family Nurse Partnership Programme Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I congratulate Ian McKee on lodging this important motion. I also congratulate NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government on their willingness to participate in and support such an exciting project. They have, to their credit, been very open-minded and willing to learn from other countries.

Many people will say that, given the current financial difficulties, it is not the right time to spend extra money on new initiatives. However, it is important that we examine the evidence and do not take a short-term view of public expenditure. The issue has come up regularly in the Finance Committee's current work on budget scrutiny, and we have heard a lot of evidence that investment in the early years will, in the long run, save a lot of money.

The work of Professor David Olds presents a wealth of evidence. For example, follow-up studies in the United States indicated that children in vulnerable families who received intensive home visiting from health visitors up to the age of two were, by the age of 15, half as likely to have psychological problems and half as likely to have been involved in the criminal justice system as similar children who were not in the programme. We simply cannot afford to ignore such powerful evidence. As we enter our budget discussions in the next few months, we need to think about the long term and recognise that investment in the early years benefits society in the long term.

The key words are "vulnerable families". People may question whether the full spread of vulnerable families have been involved in the Lothian pilot. It is a pilot, so obviously it involves a limited number of people, but we recognise that teenage parents are only one part of the vulnerable category - many others could benefit from the programme. It will always be difficult to decide who participates, but the principle of giving additional, intensive support to vulnerable families is absolutely right. We will see from the evaluation of the Lothian pilot exactly how effective it is, but we can see from the experience in the US and England that the outcome is likely to be positive.

It is a great credit to the Government and NHS Lothian that they have been willing to get involved in this work. Obviously, I will take a particular interest in it as an MSP representing Edinburgh, and no doubt some of my constituents will benefit from it. We will all examine carefully this work as it evolves and the evaluation of it. We should be prepared to learn the lessons from it and, despite the difficult times that we are in with regard to public expenditure, to commit resources to the early years, because the future of society depends on that.

Motion S3M-5636, in the name of Ian McKee, on the family nurse partnership programme
That the Parliament congratulates NHS Lothian on being selected by the Scottish Government as a test site, fully funded for three years, for a Family Nurse Partnership programme, an intensive preventive programme for vulnerable first-time young parents that has a 30-year evidence base showing the potential for improvements in women's ante-natal health, reductions in children's injuries, greater intervals between births, increases in fathers' involvement, increases in employment and earnings, reductions in the need for benefits, improvements in school readiness, reduced arrests and criminal behaviour in 15-year-olds and mothers and that eventually produces savings five times the amount of an initial investment; realises that one measure alone is not the entire answer to challenges in this field but a welcome start, and wishes the project every success.
May 20th 2010 (Column 26528-9)