Primary Health Care Research & Development

Research

Health visitors’ perception of their role in the universal childhood immunisation programme and their communication strategies with parents

Sarah A. Redsella1 c1, Helen Bedforda2, A. Niroshan Siriwardenaa3, Jacqueline Colliera4 and Philippa Atkinsona5

a1 Principal Research Fellow, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

a2 Senior Lecturer in Children’s Health, UCL Institute of Health, London, UK

a3 Professor of Primary Care, Lincoln School of Health and Social Care, University of Lincoln, Lincolnshire, UK

a4 Professor of Health Services Research, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

a5 Health Visitor, St Ann’s Health Centre, Nottingham City Primary Care Trust, Nottingham, UK

Abstract

Aim This study explored health visitors’ perception of their role in the universal childhood immunisation programme with particular emphasis on influencing factors and communication strategies.

Background The majority of parents’ consent to immunisation, but some find decision-making in this area difficult and have unmet information needs. In the United Kingdom, health visitors routinely provide immunisation information for parents, whereas general practitioners (GPs) and practice nurses tend to administer vaccines and respond to parents/carers’ questions. Research has investigated health professionals’ views and knowledge about immunisation, but less is understood about health visitors’ role and how they communicate with parents.

Method Following the Local Research Ethics and Research Governance permissions, all health visitors (n = 120) working in one county in the United Kingdom were invited to participate in the study. Semistructured interviews (n = 22) were undertaken using a prompt guide. The interviews were transcribed verbatim. Thematic analysis using an iterative approach was used to explore the data facilitated by NVIVO™ software.

Findings Five themes emerged from the interviews. These were health visitors’ professional role; identity and perceived barriers and communication strategies, parents’ right to choose, confidence in measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination and communicating with migrant families about immunisation. There were differences between the health visitors in their perceptions of their roles, skills and knowledge and communication strategies. Health visitors perceived that GPs and practice nurses took a paternalistic approach to the provision of immunisation information, while they used a parental decision-making model. Health visitors reported a loss of professional confidence following the MMR crisis.

Conclusion Given the evidence that some parents find it difficult to gain the information they need about immunisation and health visitors’ acknowledgement that their usual communication models were not effective during the MMR crisis, we feel specific communication skills training is needed to enable health professionals to provide parents with appropriate decision support.

(Received October 13 2008)

(Accepted October 20 2009)

(Online publication December 03 2009)

Key words

  • communication;
  • health visitors;
  • immunisation;
  • MMR;
  • decision-making

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence to: Dr Sarah A Redsell, Principal Research Fellow, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, A Floor, South Block, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK. Email: sarah.redsell@nottingham.ac.uk

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