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