By Gemma Walsh
Shadow secretary of State for Education Tristram Hunt has thrown his backing behind a campaign to protest cuts to breastfeeding services in Stoke-on-Trent.
The cuts, which are set to take effect from September 1st when the funding for breastfeeding services are moved to Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership Trust, could see clinics and support cafes cut.
The new plans will also see the current staff for the Infant Feeding Team reduced to just two facilitators and one administration staff.
The service, which was founded in 1999, has already been merged with the North Staffordshire Infant Feeding Team, (IFT) and their once 24/7 helpline has been cut to business hours only.
With the help of the team, Stoke-on-Trent saw a rise in breastfeeding rates, with 34% of babies being exclusively breastfed at 6 weeks, compared to just 14% ten years earlier.
This is higher than the national average of 23% at six weeks.
Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke Central, today wrote a letter to leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Dave Conway, urging him to ‘reconsider the damaging decision’ of the cuts. The letter said:
“There has been a dramatic decrease in breast feeding amongst mothers in Stoke-on-Trent in previous decades and, in light of mounting evidence demonstrating the benefits of breast feeding new born infants, previous council administrations committed themselves to raising the awareness of these benefits across the city and encouraging mothers to breast feed.”
At a meeting held today by mothers who use the service, several issues were raised including the impact on the cost of breastfeeding financially.
“The removal of IFT services will mean many young families, unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding, will rely on formula to feed their children at considerable financial cost,” said Tristram.
A worry about the on-going cost to the NHS in the future has also been raised.
Lesley Mountford, Director of Public Health at Stoke-on-Trent City Council said:
“The council commissions a number of services to help give children the best start in life and reduce health inequalities.
“As with all our contracts, our aim is to get the best value for money for residents, and ongoing monitoring of the services will take place to ensure this is happening.”
However, some users of the feeding services feel that it would not be enough.
Mothers around the city are now planning their own campaign to try and save their already decreased service.
A Twitter campaign is set to take place later in the week using the hashtag #SaveOur IFT.
Jo Haywood, a mum of two, runs the local breastfeeding group in Hanley, and is leading the SaveourIFT campaign.
Welcoming the support from Tristram, she said: “Gaining the support of an MP can only be a positive step forward for our campaign. It’s extremely gratifying to see his enthusiasm for what we’re doing.
“His support will, I’m sure, be invaluable in highlighting what the IFT mean to the families who depend on it.”
In his letter, which he has also posted on his Facebook page, Tristram added:
“This decision is deeply troubling.
“It represents a worrying trend both here in Stoke-on-Trent and nationally of a chronic underinvestment in early years services and support for families.
“I will be working with families affected by this decision and local support groups to urge the council to reverse this decision and assist anyone who may need help at this difficult time.”
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