Storytime with Wendy enhances health visitor service

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Imagine you’re the mother of a two-year-old toddler and a new baby, going to your GP practice to see a health visitor. You’re tired, but your toddler is full of energy and into everything. You worry about having to wait in the surgery – your toddler gets easily bored and restless. Even once you’re with the health visitor, it’s hard to concentrate on what they’re saying because you’re having to look after both children. 

Now imagine how happy you would be to find yourself at the health visitor clinic at St Andrews Medical Practice, where a practice health champion sits in the waiting area with books, delighting your toddler with stories – and even entertaining them while you see the health visitor. That practice health champion is Wendy Oliver.

Wendy loves children and spent 35 years working in pre-school education. As a patient, she once went to the practice during the health visitor’s clinic and saw children waiting with their mothers. When it came to thinking of activities the practice health champions could introduce, Wendy already had a clear idea – storytime.

“The favourite story I read is probably The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and another popular one is There’s a Monster in My House – it’s a lift-the-flap book, so you can really engage a child with it. If it’s an older child, I can do the voices!”

Storytime has been a hit, creating a safe, welcoming atmosphere for children and parents coming to the practice. Wendy is there every Thursday morning and her commitment is paying off, as she gets to know parents and children by name. She keeps a few wind-up toys with her to engage children who might initially be shy. Reading stories helps to occupy the children who might otherwise quickly become bored or restless. This, in turn, allows the parents to relax while they wait. Wendy had parents in mind when thinking about introducing storytime.

“I thought, if a mother comes with a new baby and a toddler, then maybe the toddler would sit and listen to a story so the mother could go and have time with the health visitor and her infant in peace. Exactly that situation has already come about a few times – one mother was bowled over when I read to her young son while she was with the health visitor. He was perfectly happy and stayed with me the whole time.”

The practice runs a drop-in health visitor’s clinic, so the flow of patients is unpredictable. Wendy can help occupy children who are having to wait in busier times and when it’s quiet she can spend more time with individual children and mothers, and sees that there’s a befriending role for her there too.

“It has been super, I feel very pleased with what has been achieved so far. The parents absolutely love it, the health visitor thinks it’s great and my GP was also very appreciative of what we’re doing. I have the most wonderful GP. He really has been so good to me – I was very bad with depression when I was still working and he saw me all the way through that. If you can say thank you in a positive and constructive way, that’s a nice thing to be able to do, and I feel that being a practice health champion is a way of doing that.”