Failing Families: Health Visitor Clinic Closures

It’s been 8 years since I started NorthHantsMum in June 2011.

I’ve seen a lot of changes during that time. Unfortunately many of those changes have negatively impacted local families, especially Mums with babies and small children and families with SEN children.

Yesterday I saw that the Health Visitor clinic schedule has been changed again so that now the Drop In’s are only Monday at The Ridgeway Centre and Friday at the Discovery Centre. The others are by appointment only.

Many of the clinics that have been running for at least 8 years (I know because I used them) have now been cancelled, such as Christchurch Chineham, Overton, Hatch Warren, Whitchurch and Bramley.

I understand that we are living in times of “austerity” but why is it that families, especially Mums and young children, are targeted with any cuts first?

What you can do!!!

If, like me, you are pissed off/ fed up  (I don’t swear on NHM but I feel it’s appropriate in this instance!) with the way local families are being repeatedly let down then this is what you can do:

Specifically email ALL of the three people below and say why it matters to you that the Health Visitor clinics have been cut.

Please cc. me in any emails that you send (NorthHantsMum@gmail.com).

  1. Email the head of Southern Health: hp-tr.complaints@nhs.net
  2. Email Maria Miller: maria.miller.mp@parliament.uk
  3. Email your local councillor. You can find your local councillor here by using your postcode: https://democracy.basingstoke.gov.uk/mgFindMember.aspx

(You can copy and paste all of the emails from here: hp-tr.complaints@nhs.net;  maria.miller.mp@parliament.uk; NorthHantsMum@gmail.com)

Specifically tweet ALL of the three people below and say why it matters to you that the Health Visitor clinics have been cut:

  1. Tweet the head of Southern Health: https://twitter.com/NickBroughton4
  2. Tweet Maria Miller: https://twitter.com/MariaMillerUK
  3. Tweet your local councillors

The remaining clinics also have feedback forms, so please complete these as well.

Please make sure you add comments as to why it matters to you that the clinics have been cut as the way these things work is that individual letters/emails count more than group ones.

What to write about

You could write about how disappointed you are that so many clinics have been discontinued because they were so important to you when your baby was born as they were somewhere for you to go for support.

You could write about how annoyed you are that funding cuts are impacting new Mums and thus putting them at more risk of post natal depression.

You could write about how angry you are that new Mums and future new Mums are being failed by the services that are supposed to be in place to support them.

You could also write something similar to this which I’ve been sent by another local Mum: “in recent years in our area parents have lost specialised breastfeeding support when grant funding was not extended and have had closures of Children’s Centres (11 remain out of 64 in Hampshire I think). To say that support for parents has been decimated is an understatement. I understand that money is tight but the latest blow will affect those parents who are only just coping and in turn these women and children will need to access more services via their GPs for example or as mental health referrals. I consider these additional closures will knock on to the health and well being of ordinary families and will cost the whole system more in the long run. We were promised more Health Visitors in the call for action – instead it seems we have fewer with just a skeleton service remaining. I worry for those families who in the past would have got early support from a trusted Health Visitor – who now will go under the radar. If a GP visit costs around £45, a hospital overnight stay more like £500 and a child taken in to care around £50K per annum… we can see how cutting services for families to the bare minimum will soon knock on to these other budgets. We are calling for a joined up approach to services in the county.”

You can obviously write whatever you would like but please put why it matters to you that the Health Visitor Clinics have been cut.

On Social Media you could use the hashtag #FailingFamilies.

Summary of Closures

If you have a bit more time and feel like you really want to “go to town” on how local families are being let down, then please see my summary of closures and cancellations in the past 4 years….

2015

2016

(There is now direct evidence of how children’s centres saved the NHS millions of pounds: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/04/sure-start-saved-nhs-millions?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook&fbclid=IwAR38KyULT_ELrGweVxT_rNIHgJIK4RKL491e0MVUbcHjaVmsiC99gW3lRC8) Thank you to Danielle for sharing with me).

2017

  • 30 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, meaning many Mums are being forced back into working much earlier than they would want too.

2018

  • Closing of Little Play Town in Nov 2018
  • Manydown Family Fun Closed
  • Absolute Karting Basingstoke Closed
  • JJ’s (softplay) Closed
  • Beenham Wolf Sanctury Closed
  • Reduction of funding for school buses – August 2018
  • Removal of school buses for children with disabilities – August 2018
  • National Playday at Eastrop cancelled in 2018. This was a free day for children that had been running for years in Eastrop but now runs in a few of the local community centres instead. It’s not the same. At all.
  • Reduction in funding for the newborn courses at the remaining Children’s Centre, Westside – 2018
  • Cancellation of the EHCP process in Nov 2018 for SEN parents
  • Closing of ParentVoice and switching to Red Rose: https://www.hants.gov.uk/news/Nov27-SENDIASS
  • Changes to Special Educational Needs and Disability Information, Advice and Support in Hampshire

2019

  • Kids N Action Softplay Closed
(If there is anything that I have missed off this list, please let me know).

Impact of these changes

All of these changes are impacting many, many local families.

Even more so with the increase in housing of an extra 10,000 houses to be built in the local area by end of 2020, so more families are moving to the area but services are being reduced that don’t support existing families, let alone new families.

As I said above, I understand that we live in times of “austerity” but it’s very, very worrying and I try not to dwell too much on the impact these changes will have on my 8 year old daughter, her generation and future generations.

I try my best to be positive and upbeat on NHM but I think we need to try to do something to ensure that at least the Health Visitor clinics are better represented. Any help you can give with this will be greatly appreciated. If we ALL send the emails, the impact the NorthHantsMum Community could have would be huge!

Comments from other Mum’s

who have put it far more eloquently than I have!

Sarah: Sadly it Seems like this government would rather waste money hosting a £40million trump visit and push through brexit at any cost rather than look after it’s vulnerable citizens. After brexit more services like this will be cut as we will all be poorer – Apparently it’s “the will of the people”.

Genevieve: As well as writing letters, you may also wish to comment on Maria’s Twitter and Facebook accounts (or here https://www.facebook.com/159961377372565/posts/2184994638202552?s=532163237&sfns=mo – she’s very good at attending awards, not so good at helping people!).

Eleanor: Prevention is better than cure … health visitor clinics are so useful to local people in their own communities. Mums don’t think ‘oh I’m struggling, I know I’ll book a health visitor clinic’ they just keep struggling, until something breaks or nothing happens but just struggle.
I’m so sad to see the Bramley clinic cancelled. The stay and play sessions were so valuable to me. Sadly the funding is ridiculously short I presume. I’ll defiantly be emailing as you suggested. Taking away support for parents is only ever going to cause problems for parents and children in the future. Even if it’s the subtle kind of problems that don’t translate into hospital admissions etc.

Elisa: The unfortunate truth is that they are down on 5 full time health visitors for Southern Health. The reason they are not able to recruit is that most of their time is spent dealing with safe guarding issues. The role of the health visitor has sadly changed and nobody wants to do the type of work they are doing now. Add to this, the fact that the remaining staff are over worked and stressed, it’s not an environment anyone else wants to join.
So as desperately sad as it is about the decreasing availability of them, writing to anyone will sadly make no difference. The jobs are available but sadly nobody wants them ☹️.

Emma: When I had my first I could walk around to chiltern school and see a HV every other Tuesday. He was regularly weighed and as a first time mum I could ask all my questions. Fast forward 4 years and I had a prem baby. Zero support. I was told I’d have more contact because he was premature- I didn’t. When I went for weigh ins the HV’s didn’t all understand how to record his weight!! You have to plot it twice for actual and corrected. The library was the easiest one to get to but queues were horrendous and then you felt rushed because you could feel the strain. Needless to say I stopped going. It was too much effort with two children and with my baby being so little. I can’t believe they’ve reduced this even further. If I was a first time mum now I’d be very worried.

Wendy: Emma, such similar story, my first was weighed once a fortnight at first, then once a month in the Popley 5 drop in that was walking distance for all of Popley, Oakridge and South View. Then they moved it to Popley Fields for my second, no longer walking distance, not at a time that was convenient for nursery/school run. He got weighed about 4 times. He had eczema and allergies but going to the drop in meant missing out on other things or struggling with the car park, so we didn’t bother. Parking charges, town being busy, all things that would have put me off going to the library. I can only imagine what it’s like for those using public transport.

Angela: It’s thoroughly saddening to see such valuable support (emotional to individuals and economic to the wider public health system) being stripped away. I hope people remember this feeling of hopelessness during the next general election and vote for a party that is going to help the public. (I’m really sorry to make this political, but in the words of a great 90s rock band “everything’s political”. We have the power to choose a government that won’t strip the first line of support from us.)

Charlotte: It’s so sad. I used to work on a HV team and the work they do really cannot be underestimated. Yes, you can still see a HV without a clinic but as mentioned above, the clinic is such a convenient and quick way to see them, without having to book an appointment. Some parents don’t have to confidence to book an appointment, or they aren’t sure if they are wasting someone’s time (they never are wasting anyone’s time). I think the cutting down of these clinics alongside the closure of the children’s centres we really come back to bite the Government in a few years when there are increased social issues and late diagnosis of problems that could have been resolved with early intervention 😢.

Mary: To be a HV, you have to be a qualified nurse. They can’t find nurses because they cut the support for people to train. Lots of nurses stop nursing because its not compatible with being a parent unless you are lucky enough to work in a day service. Nurses, however, aren’t paid enough so free childcare is vital to contribute towards the cos. It’s more problematic that childcare support doesn’t start until age 3 so working parents have to struggle through age 1 and 2 first – or not work and then have to pay to reregister or train for their jobs. It’s all connected.

Nicole: I got my almost 3 month old weighed yesterday at Discovery Centre and I was shocked at how much it had changed since I took my first there in 2016. There was a queue out of the door to get in, and then you now weigh your baby and record it in your red book yourself. I didn’t need any support from the HV on this visit, but I’m not a healthcare professional and it would have been nice to just have them oversee it and my baby’s progress. To be honest I won’t be attending again. I feel sorry for the HVs because they look so stretched when you see them trying to get around the room, but most of them were extremely friendly and pleasant, and even found me a seat to feed the baby before I left.

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Play Yoga

‘If the children are happy, then we’re happy!’ – a phrase widely used by parents! As a mum of two daughters myself, I am a total advocate of this! However, in more recent years, the importance of good mental health in children has come to the forefront of the news and media.

I have worked for over 20 years in the childcare and education sector, ranging from nurseries, to primary schools, to working closely with children with Special Educational Needs. I feel that there is no greater reward than working with children. But, as any parent will tell you, it is also one of the hardest jobs in the world. In the past few years there has been significant change in our society, causing more and more children great anxiety, and an inability to cope with their emotions so well. Research has shown that if the concept of wellbeing can be introduced at an early age, it will provide the child with the strategies to cope with life at a later age.

Play Yoga is a preschool class (2 ½ to 5 years old), dedicated to promoting healthy children, with happy minds. All classes are designed as an introduction to Yoga and Wellbeing. The sessions are all devised by myself, using techniques and experience from my childcare background.

All sessions use props, games and songs to help us to learn such things as breathing techniques, calm down strategies, and mindfulness activities that help us to calm ourselves in moments of high energy and anxiety. Yoga moves are introduced to the group, with the help of Buddy Bear. This is not always a ‘calm’ time, but a great introduction to the concept of Yoga for future use. Creative time plays a huge part in our sessions too. If children are allowed to be creative and express themselves now, they will be more confident at expressing themselves in years to come.

Each session ends with a time for ‘reflection’, which encourages children to talk about what they have enjoyed about the session, thus increasing their confidence and giving them security that they are being listened to and valued by others.

Some weeks are themed to suit the time of the year or even the interests of the children. One of our group last term was keen to show off some dinosaur yoga moves that he had created at home! Our Mother’s Day session included baking a pretend cake for our Mummies, and using our breathing techniques ‘to blow out the candles’. We practised some partner poses with our grown-ups, followed up by decorating some biscuits for our Mummies!

Finally, for our mindfulness activity, we cuddled up with our grown-ups under a blanket to play a listening game. We listened to short and long sounds, noticing when the sound actually finished, encouraging the children to take note of the sounds around us in everyday life.

Play Yoga is preparing to roll out our new Monday sessions from 3rd June to 22nd July 2019. We will be at Viables Community Centre, Basingstoke, starting at 10am. I am a small, independent, local business which started operating in February 2019, and I am keen to meet lots of children and their parents.

If you are interested in joining us, a trial session is £4.50. If you wish to continue then your space can be booked for the remainder of the half term at a rate of £6 per session.

Please take a look at my Facebook page – http://Facebook.com/AlisonPlay.Yoga or feel free to email me with any queries at Play.Yoga@yahoo.com. (You can message me also directly through Facebook.)

Thank you for taking the time out to read my post.

Alison

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Baby Sleep the Night

Having trouble getting your baby / toddler to sleep? Let me help you as I have been there too.

I am currently working towards finalising my certification and am offering a 2 week package which usually would cost £250 for £50 in exchange for an honest review of my service and a testimonial if you’re happy with the results at the end of our time together.

It is worth mentioning that I do not use the ‘ cry it out ‘ method, which many frazzled parents may possibly have tried and found not successful in the past. I use a very gentle approach taught to me by one of the leading baby sleep consultants in the UK which allows you to be there every step of the way to help provide comfort to your little one whilst they learn this new and important skill. I am incredibly passionate about sleep having suffered sleep deprivation with my own children and I know that healthy sleep habits mean healthy happy children.

If you know of anyone who this may help, please pass on my details or share to your entire address book!

www.babysleepthenight.com

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New Class!! – Baby Mindful

Baby Mindful classes are an amazing opportunity for parent and baby to connect and spend time getting to know each other in a calm supportive environment. It’s so easy to be caught in a whirlwind of being busy, and Baby Mindful is an opportunity to leave the to-do list and worries behind, and focus on your baby, and also your needs too – Time to just “be” rather than “do”.

You will also learn tools to help you manage the emotional rollercoaster of parenthood (and indeed life!), that will remain valuable throughout your journey as a parent – the ability to respond rather than react to situations, and be the calm your baby seeks.The classes follow a different theme each week and offer a range of activities to support the natural development of your baby, using activities that will gently stimulate and calm them and support their cognitive, communicative, social, emotional and physical development.

Each class has seven sections with different activities in each – Move, Play, Stretch, Feel, Breathe, Believe and Relax – with benefits for both your baby and you.

Classes are for 0-6 month babies at 10am, and also more action based classes for 6-12 month babies at 11:15am.

Overton Community Centre, Overton, RG25 3HB
https://www.facebook.com/babymindfulwithlaura/

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Review 2019: Thula Mama, Relax and sing whilst enjoying the soothing therapy of salt!

Review 2019: Thula Mama

Thula Mama is a unique and relaxing activity where mums with babies can enjoy singing together in a group whilst cuddling their babies and generally having a lovely time.  There are groups all over the country, but Basingstoke’s offering stands out from the rest in its venue – The Salt Lounge is Basingstoke’s first salt therapy space and is conveniently located close to Festival Place just off Wote street.  It offers treatments that can help alleviate breathing difficulties such as asthma as well as soothing skin conditions such as eczema.

At my first session it was a small enough group to not feel overwhelmed.  Rebecca, who organises it, was super friendly and we were offered tea and biscuits in lovely reusable mugs with lids (to prevent accidents from little grabbing hands!).  We relaxed in the waiting area and chatted for a while, before heading into the therapy room for our singing session.

The therapy room is a soothing white cave of tranquility.  There are comfortable reclining chairs with low arms and footstools, perfect for feeding baby.  You can choose to go barefoot, or with protection over your shoes, and the salt on the floor feels lovely between your toes.  There are mats and toys laid out on the floor for the babies to play, and the lighting is slightly dimmed for relaxation.

The songs at Thula Mama are simple, easy to learn traditional songs from around the world.  The words are written on a flip chart and the tunes can be picked up after hearing the song once.  We sang each through several times, adding in harmonies as we went, and I felt a real sense of achievement from learning some lovely-sounding music and enjoying singing it in less than 5 minutes!  There are no auditions, and no worrying about having any previous experience of singing – it’s all about joining in and having fun with other mums!

Facilities-wise the venue has everything you need – there are lockers for you to leave valuables if you wish, prams can be left in the waiting area where there is always a member of staff present, and the disabled toilet has a changing table too.  There are a couple of steps into the building, but there is always someone to help get prams in if needed.

I left my first session feeling both physically and emotionally refreshed.  My little one and I both had colds at the time, and I’m sure the salt therapy helped us feel better, and it was such a nice change to do something calming and relaxing with babies (although we are all for the sensory play and bright colours and loud noises of other baby groups too!).  I have since been back every week for the past couple of months and treat it as my weekly retreat!

I give Thula Mama 5 out of 5!  At £10 per week it’s really reasonable, especially considering you get a salt therapy session for free!  The first session is free for you to come along and try, so what are you waiting for?  Get in touch on the link below:

https://www.facebook.com/ThulaMamaBasingstoke

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Relax with Kath – Relaxation Classes for Adults

As well as Relax Kids classes for children I also run relaxation classes for adults! I’m embarking on my Yoga Teacher Training journey and am very excited to be offering the classes below to my timetable.  I advertised my first Monday evening class and it filled within 12 hours which was fabulous but also made me realise that we need things like this in our lives!! I wanted to provide something that offers a bit of everything relaxation-wise (intro to mindful moments, beginners yoga and finishing off with some relaxation) so that people can come along and enjoy some time for themselves.

****NEW TUESDAY DAYTIME CLASS****
Starting Tuesday 23 April
9.45am-10.45am in Popley20 mins of MINDFULNESS techniques
20 mins of beginners YOGA
20 mins of RELAXATION
£30 for 5 week courseBookings can be made at: http://bit.ly/rwktues
****NEW MONDAY EVENING CLASS****
Starting Monday 10 June or Monday 8 July
8-9pm in Popley20 mins of MINDFULNESS techniques
20 mins of beginners YOGA
20 mins of aRELAXATION
£24 for 4 week courseBookings can be made at:

http://bit.ly/rwk10june  for 10 June course

http://bit.ly/rwk8july for 8 July course

Places are limited on the courses and I’m hopeful that the Tuesday morning course will continue during term time after my first course in April.

AND

If classes aren’t what you want, but you still fancy some ‘me’ time, then please check out my Relax with Kath Facebook page as I’m also a qualified massage therapist, offering treatments such as relaxation massage, hot stones massage, thai foot massage, beauty facials (deluxe, hot stones, classic and express) and not so relaxing waxing from my home treatment room in Oakridge.  I’ll soon be offering eyelash lift and tint as well! Check out https://www.facebook.com/relaxwithkath for more info.  I’m offering any North Hants Mum readers £5 off their first treatment with me! Just quote NHM to get £5 off any full price treatment.

Contact Kath Routledge rkbasingstoke@yahoo.co.uk or 07989 476533

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NHM Readers Recommend: Family Yoga Classes

An NHM Reader recently asked “I need some help if possible, I have an 8 year old who wants to do a yoga class with me. Do you know any that take children of this age in a joint class. I’ve found some that are for kids but no parents allowed or some for adults but no children under 16.”

Thank you for all of your responses, listed below in no particular order.

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

NHM Readers Recommend: Family Yoga Classes

Sue said “I do yoga with my 10yr old, but it’s at home using the 30 day Yoga on Prime. It’s only 20 minutes and it’s great”

Vickie said “We do yoga at home but it’s on YouTube there’s a woman who has her own channel. It’s fab as she does it along to stories! Both my 5 & 9 yo love it and it’s a good wind-down before bed…It’s such a clever idea because it keeps them engaged too!”

Jo S replied “Yes we do this too…cosmic yoga”

Becca said “Nat runs fab classes The Little Yoga Company

Katie replied “I also recommend Nat”

Vicky said “Young yogis Gina at chineham village hall saturdays”

Ruza said “Recommend Young Yogis with Gina at Chineham village hall Saturday mornings. Very flexible and will let parents and children do this together.”

Kath replied “I run Relax Kids Basingstoke and at some point will be adding children/family yoga to my offering but it won’t be for a while”

Sarah said “Karma Kidz Yoga Absolutely brilliant family classes – but in Farnham, so might be too far for you.”

Hana said “There is a class in Chute House in town centre every Sunday. Suitable for ages 4+”

Claire said “loubedfordyoga was going to run childrens classes but didn’t have enough uptake last year. Highly recommended as a teacher for beginners. Based in Basingstoke too”

Jo R said “Sue Cordery did a class just before Xmas and may do more? We really enjoyed it.”

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Action for Happiness – Exploring What Matters Course

March 20th was the International Day of Happiness. Sounds a bit trite? Well, the national mental health and wellbeing charity, Action for Happiness, is doing its bit to help people find happiness, break isolation and build social cohesion – despite life’s difficulties. Take a look at the BBC’s coverage of AfH on the day.

Locally, AfH will be running a new course called Exploring What Matters to help people discover how to live a happier and kinder life. Evaluation surveys from over 1,000 previous course attendees have showed significant improvements in both the personal wellbeing (+20% Life Satisfaction; +13% Mental Wellbeing) and also in the pro-social behaviour (+9% Compassion; +16% Trust) of the course participants, and we could all use a bit of that.

Jasmine Hodge-Lake came to the course having suffered for over a decade with chronic pain which left her unable to work. She describes how it helped her:

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Action for Happiness and that course. I found there were things I could do that would make a big difference and started to feel hopeful about the future. I still have bad days and life certainly isn’t perfect. But it has really helped me so much. Now I’m trying to be the change that I want to see.”

The course is based on groups of up to 24 people exploring “big questions” together each week. The questions/themes for the 8 sessions are as follows:

  1. What really matters in life?
  2. What actually makes us happy?
  3. Can we find peace of mind?
  4. How should we treat others?
  5. What makes for great relationships?
  6. Can we be happier at work?
  7. Can we build happier communities?
  8. How can we create a happier world?

Each weekly session follows the same structured format, which includes:

  • Tuning In. Starting each session with short mindfulness and gratitude exercises to create a calm and positive atmosphere and to encourage friendly connections.
  • Expert View. Watching a short video relating to the theme, including talks by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Layard, Karen Armstrong, Ed Diener and Brene Brown.
  • Personal View. Reflecting on personal experiences relating to that week’s theme.
  • Did You Know? Learning interesting new ideas based on the latest research.
  • Group Discussion. Having an in-depth discussion in small groups of 3-4 people.
  • Action. Committing to a personal action to take based on what has been discussed.

Participants are asked to make a donation of £90 to attend. However, there is a genuine pay-what-you-can offer if that is too much – no questions, no embarrassment so that the course remains open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. On the other hand, Participants who are able to donate more help to ensure the course is available for those who have less.

The course will take place at The Viables Community Centre every Thursday for 8 weeks, starting on 2nd May. Please get your tickets now from Eventbrite.

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Junior and Family Classes at Basingstoke Sports Centre

Junior Bootcamp at Basingstoke Sports Centre Thursdays and Fridays 4.25-5.25pm (this half term started last Thur and Fri and is £22.80 for the six weeks, there are still spaces). Next half terms starts 25th&26th April.

Mini Movers at Basingstoke Sports Centre Thursdays 11.15-11.45am (pre-school movement class), this half term is 6 weeks long and is £12 for the course, (works out at £2 a class).

Family Pedal at Basingstoke Sports Centre Saturdays 12.10-12.40pm. Spin class for the whole family. Also £12 for 6 weeks this half term (spaces left).

For more info: https://www.mybst.org/basingstoke

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Coeliac Disease: Newly Diagnosed

NB: Before you read this, please note that I am not a medical expert, these are just my notes on what I’ve learnt about Coeliac Disease in the past two years since Miss NHM was diagnosed, which might be helpful to others. 

Miss NHM was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in May 2017 and I went public about this in March 2018 which you can read about in my “Being Authentic” post.

You can also read about the post that I wrote about Coeliac Disease 18 months after Miss NHM’s diagnosis.

It’s nearly two years since her diagnosis and during that time I’ve learnt a LOT about Coeliac Disease and what it means to my daughter and our family.

I’ve had a lot of Mum’s come to me recently saying that their children have been diagnosed with CD and if I have any advice or suggestions, so I thought it would be easier to just put together a post to share what I’ve learnt in the effort that it helps more people (which is what NorthHantsMum is all about!!).

Coeliac Disease: Newly Diagnosed

I cried when Miss NHM was diagnosed.

I’m still not sure whether it was tears of relief or worry.

Probably a combination of both because at least we would know what we were dealing with. Having lived with an un-diagnosed coeliac for 6 years, knowing what it was that was causing Miss NHM so much pain and issues was a BIG step in the right direction!

I knew it was CD when I received a call from our GP a few days after Miss NHM’s initial blood tests.

It can be very overwhelming when you are told that your child has an lifelong auto-immune disease. It can be even more overwhelming when you realise that it affects everything your child eats or drinks.

Everything.

I know what it’s like to feel very lost, confused, worried, guilty and many other emotions.

Wondering how you are going to be able to help your child adjust, cope and live a normal life and still maintain a semblance of your sanity.

But, it does get easier. It’s not easy, but it gets easier.

Coeilac UK

If there is one thing that I feel is the most important thing to do when your child is diagnosed with Coeliac Disease – it’s to join Coeliac UK. They have been absolutely amazing and the gluten free food checker phone app that you can download which you can use to scan bar codes of food to check if it contains gluten, has been priceless and invaluable for us.

If you do nothing else, you MUST join Coeliac UK and use the phone app. I think it’s about £30 a year for a family membership but it’s sooooooooo worth it. Also, make sure that you follow their Facebook Page. That’s also been invaluable for us.

Mr NHM and I both have the gluten free food checker app on our phones because you can use to scan the bar codes of over 100,000 products to see if they have gluten in and we also have the Venue guide downloaded on our phones so we can see places to eat when we are on the move. The Venue guide isn’t great but it definitely helps.

We also requested the Young Champions pack which Miss NHM took into school to explain about Coeliac Disease to her peers. This really helped her to understand what Coeliac Disease is and how it affects her.

Things I have learnt

As I’ve said above I’ve learnt a lot about Coeliac Disease and even though this post is probably going to be reeeaaalllly long, hopefully it provides you with some insights and suggestions that will be useful when your child is “freshly” diagnosed.

Definitely check out my “Being Authentic” post for suggestions of food to watch out for. It’s the things that you wouldn’t expect like barley squash, chocolate, chips, marshmallows, soy sauce, most ketchups, some fromage frais, and even playdough which is made with gluten. You want to avoid anything with “Malt” or “Barley” in and look for “Spirit Vinegar” instead as Spirit vinegar is GF.

Cross Contamination

Cross Contamination is the bain of Coeliac Disease. As I’ve mentioned before, it takes an awful lot of time explaining to “Muggles” (those people who don’t have CD, which I suppose I’m one of too! lol) what CC is and what it means. It takes 1 crumb of anything with gluten in to poison/gluten Miss NHM and she is sick after for 3 weeks or more.

We are gluten free as much as possible at home. Our kitchen is probably 98% gluten free (I REFUSE to give up marmite if I don’t have too!). When Miss NHM was diagnosed I went through EVERYTHING in our cupboards and freezer and gave away to our neighbours anything with gluten in.

We also replaced all of our chopping boards, that had been used with bread products, all wooden spoons, our oven pans and cleaned our oven thoroughly.

It can be expensive having an exclusively gluten free kitchen but it’s worth the risk for us to ensure that Miss NHM doesn’t get sick.

You don’t have to do this though but it is worth ensuring that you have spaces in your kitchen which are exclusively GF and have no risk of CC.

Easter Eggs (I’ve put this at the top because Easter is coming up!)

Easter Eggs aren’t as bad as you think! The first year after Miss NHM was diagnosed she ended up with 6 dairy and wheat free easter eggs, none of which were particularly nice.

So Mr NHM went and did some research on the Coeliac UK website and discovered that LOTS of “normal” easter eggs are also gluten free and creme eggs are also GF.

Local Restaurants

For those of you who live in Basingstoke and North Hampshire, these are the restaurants that we’ve had the most luck with and where Miss NHM hasn’t been glutened.

ALWAYS, always, always, tell the server who seats you that your child has Coeliac Disease. Don’t be shy about this. You must tell them because then what normally happens is that the Manager will come over to take the order and ensure that your child’s food is handled appropriately.

We try to look out for those restaurants that are Coeliac UK accredited as it means that all of the staff understand about being gluten free and the risk of cross contamination.

Coeliac Accredited local restaurants

Pizza Express – excellent and have a good variety of children’s food (just a pain in the arse that Mr NHM whines about going there cause he doesn’t like the food! <facepalm>).

Presso Winchester – Brilliant and we’ve eaten here a couple of times. They have a GF child specific menu.

Miller and Carter Steakhouse Basingstoke – Brilliant but very expensive and they don’t have a specific GF children’s menu.

Pho Reading – Excellent and we love it here!

Cote Brasserie Basingstoke – we haven’t eaten here yet but definitely plan too!!

Sainsburys cafe at Hatch Warren Basingstoke have chips that are gluten free so Miss NHM has a children’s portion of ham, egg and chips with peas. Just a shame about the recent staffing issues at the Cafe. Hope they get it sorted soon as it’s one of the only reasonably priced places that we can actually eat out as a family!!!

Zizzi’s Basingstoke – we’ve only eaten here once but they were good.

Browns in Reading – we haven’t actually eaten here but they are accredited and it’s on our list to try.

Chiquito in Camberley – we haven’t actually eaten either here yet as it’s quite pricey but they are accredited and it’s on our list try.

Frankie and Benny’s Basingstoke – we haven’t eaten here yet because I’ve always had a mixed experience with this Frankie and Benny’s and I’m not sure I trust them.

I don’t touch Pizza Hut or Dominoes because even though they are Coeliac Accredited the staff are all very young and I just wouldn’t put my daughters health in their hands.

Non Coeliac Accredited local restaurants that are still good with GF

Wagamamas Winchester – but we don’t go to the Basingstoke one anymore as the staff are rude and dismissive, so we go to the Winchester one as they have always been excellent and very accommodating.

Yo Sushi in Reading are good but only because Miss NHM tends to eat only the fruit salad, the edamame beans and the GF puddings! Not healthy I know but we don’t go very often so it’s worth it!

Bartons Mill – everything here is supposed to be GF but surprisingly they aren’t Coeliac Accredited. It’s definitely on our list of places to try soon.

House28 in Sherfield on Loddon does GF items but they don’t understand about Cross Contamination unfortunately.

Aingels Cafe in Winklebury have Gluten free food and they do understand about cross contamination and have been really good when we’ve been there.

Hayley recommended Brighton Hill Pizza Hut (takeaway by Asda) all the time. Haven’t had any issues at all. Also the fish’n chicken next door are GF on Monday and Tuesday.

A Basing Bakes – not technically a restaurant but Helen sells her GF products at the Winchester Farmers Market.

Shopping for Food

These days it is possible to find gluten free alternatives to most foods.

However, you’ll learn pretty quick that a single supermarket will not cover everything that you need. Every chain of supermarkets stocks something different. We do our main shop at Sainsburys and I ALWAYS use online shopping because GF items are then automatically saved in my favourites, so I don’t have to go hunting on the shelves.

We also do an Ocado shop every quarter because Ocado is by far the best place for gluten free alternatives. They have an AMAZING amount of GF stock so definitely worth investigation. However, it can be quite expensive which is why we don’t do our regular shops at Ocado.

Whenever I’m near a supermarket that I don’t do regular shop in, I pop in to see what different GF products they have. Waitrose, Tesco’s, Morrisons and Asda are all excellent and all have slightly different GF offerings.

FB Groups

These are the FB Groups that I highly recommend and that have been invaluable to me:

Coeliacs in the UK

Children with Coeliac Disease

Coeliacs Eat Out Too

Coeliac UK North Hampshire Local Group

Coeliac UK – Berkshire Support Group

Fleet Coeliac Group

Coeliacs Eat Abroad

I also really, really like glutenandme and a balanced belly facebook pages, specifically for notifications about other new GF food.

NHM FB Groups

I also have a couple of FB Groups that are specifically for NHM Readers. One is for children and parents with a food allergy or Coeliac Disease and the other is Gluten free food – Non Branded which shows you the products that NHM parents have found which aren’t automatically listed as “free from” or gluten free.

If you would like to join both or either, please PM me at “Louise nhm Smith” and ensure you are a friend of mine or drop me an email at NorthHantsMum@gmail.com.

Food Hacks

You will notice that lots of the “Free From” food in the Free From aisle in any supermarket is very expensive. It’s also loaded with sugar so not very healthy.

Which is why it’s fairly important to try to avoid as much of that aisle as possible and identify those products which are automatically gluten free and aren’t specifically labelled as gluten free products as they won’t have an automatic 30%+ price hike attached.

However, in the beginning, when we didn’t know what we were doing, we tended to stick with the “free from” ranges as it was just easier. It takes time to come to terms with things and learn what foods are safe and which ones aren’t, so be gentle with yourself!!!

Prescription Bread and Flour is a battle to get these days. If you have any problems with your GP not giving your child the right units then definitely get in touch with your Dietician. Our GP didn’t want to give Miss NHM her entitlement of prescription bread so we spoke to the Dietician who sorted it all out for us.

“Normal” GF bread is sooooo expensive and absolutely rubbish as lots of them have air holes. We’ve had no issue with the prescription bread apart from that they sometimes send us the wrong amount. Definitely invest in a large freezer if you want to go this route as you can freeze the bread and it will be fine to use when you defrost it. Otherwise you might find yourself with 6 loaves of bread to use within 3 days!!!!

Emotional Implications of Coeliac Disease

This has been a tough one. Because of the way that Miss NHM was treated at her previous school and because she’s now getting older and understanding the limitations of Coeliac Disease on her life, her anxiety levels have been very high. Dealing with this has been really hard, much harder than the physical issues.

She recently had blood tests for her second Coeliac Clinic (Coeliacs have to have annual blood tests to ensure that their TTG, B12, Vitamin D and Calcium levels are all within the “normal” range). Unfortunately, as this was her 4th set of bloods, even with the Emla cream, she was very, very worried and unhappy about it all. The hospital staff are always so brilliant with her but I also find the whole experience very draining.

Children’s birthdays at school have been very hard on Miss NHM. Many times people hand out home made cakes or biscuits and I never get any warning as to when this will be. I try to have a small packet of haribo (which is GF) in my pocket when I’m picking up at the school run, to ensure that Miss NHM doesn’t feel like she’s missing out too much.

Travelling with Coeilac Disease

I was absolutely terrified about taking Miss NHM to another country and her getting sick. But if you do your research it’s actually not that bad. We went abroad for the first time since diagnosis in August last year and went to America where it was soooo much better, even than here! I didn’t sleep for the 3 days before we left as I was so stressed and anxious about it but where we stayed in Florida were really on the ball and she wasn’t glutened/poisoned once.

Spain and the Canary Islands are supposed to be really good. You can read up on the best places to go on the Coeilac UK website or the FB groups. We wanted to go to Vietnam and Cambodia but we’re going to wait for a few more years until Miss NHM is a little older before we brave that one.

In this country we always go self catering. I also highly recommend looking at Youth Hostels. They aren’t like they used to be, you can get family rooms at a very reasonable rate now. The bit that is most important for us is the self catering kitchen. So we can prepare food for Miss NHM (I take my own pans and chopping boards) and we can get dinner for us in the hostel restaurant so I don’t have to cook. There are freezers and fridges that you can use in the self catering kitchens and you can access them whenever you like. We’ve done this several times in the past two years and the hostels have always been absolutely brilliant and several also provide GF food now, although they can’t guarantee the risk of cross contamination.

Other things to look out for 

Food Aversion:  This is very, very frustrating but Miss NHM is very apprehensive about eating “new” foods because of her experiences. It’s not surprising really but it is a total pain in the arse for anyone doing the cooking and trying to keep your child’s diet healthy and varied.

School dinners: We’ve been VERY lucky that the school Miss NHM is at now take Coeliac Disease as seriously as it needs to be taken. Her previous school, The Prison, were bloody awful.

I’m very, very, very thankful that the school Miss NHM have never glutened her and that they take the necessary precautions to keep her safe. I ensure that Miss NHM has a school dinner because I trust the school and it’s one less thing for me to worry about but if I didn’t trust the school she would be having packed lunches. No question.

Birthday Parties: I’ve mentioned before about how lovely most of our friends have been about gluten free food and birthday cakes but I generally speak to the Mum who is organising the party and provide similar GF food for Miss NHM because it’s easier for them because I know exactly what to buy and it means I know that Miss NHM won’t get glutened. Look out for Party bags though. I always provide haribo or suggest haribo as that’s GF.

Your child’s teeth: Calcium isn’t absorbed in the same way for Coeliacs so definitely keep an eye on your children’s teeth and ensure they are brushing them properly twice a day. You can read up more about the impact of Coeliac Disease on your child’s teeth on the “Children with Coeliac Disease” fb group mentioned above.

Coeliac UK Events: Sign up to as many of these as you can! We went to our first one last year in Reading at Green Park and it was fantastic. Miss NHM spent the whole time wondering round and saying “all these people are just like MEEEE!!!!” and eating all of the samples that were available! We also bought loads of food because everything had at least 30% off. You have to register for tickets but the tickets are free and EVERYTHING is gluten free including the food trucks outside. Next time we will get there as soon as it opens so we can get some good bargains. I fell in love with some Warburtons Artisan bread that is normally £4 a loaf but was only £2 on the day. A great day to stock up and we hope to get to a few more GF Fairs later this year.

Extended Family testing: All direct family members (parents, siblings and children) of the person diagnosed should go to the GP and request to be tested too due to the increased risk of them potentially having it. Ensure that those being tested complete the “Gluten Challenge” before having any blood tests as they need to be eating gluten twice a day for at least 6 weeks for the results to be conclusive.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure there is stuff that I’ve missed so I’ll have a think over the next few weeks and see what else I can add to this post, so please check back in a month or so to see if anything else has been added.

Just know, you and your child aren’t alone. There is a lot of support available if you know where to look and there are lots of us dealing with this, in the NHM Community alone!

And also be gentle with yourself. A diagnosis of Coeliac Disease is a pretty steep learning curve and the first few months can be quite intense. As I said above though, it does get easier and when your child starts to feel well again it’s all worth it.

If you have any questions about Coeliac Diseaase that you think I can help with (remember, I am NOT a medical expert so the only advice I can give you is based on my experience) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at NorthHantsMum@gmail.co.uk.

Good luck!!! 

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