Public health minister and former nurse Anne Milton has launched the government’s strategy to “rejuvenate” the health visitor workforce.
The Health Visitors Implementation Plan sets out how the government will meet its target of expanding the health visitor workforce by 4,200 over the next four years.
It promises to deal with the concerns of some health visitors who feel undervalued by introducing an improved career structure, and reinforces links between Sure Start children’s centres and health visitors.
Launching the strategy, Ms Milton said: “Health visitors play such an important role – they give families that vital extra bit of support they need in their children’s early years. We need more of them so they can reclaim their role in the heart of our communities and at the centre of family life.
”As well as new recruits, we also want to encourage those who have left the profession to return. And we will offer existing health visitors the chance to refresh and develop their skills - helping to improve career opportunities and retention.
“Now is an exciting time to join what promises to be a rewarding, dynamic and essential service.”
To account for health visitors that are likely to retire, the government estimates an extra 6,000 nurses or midwives will need to be recruited into the profession and is working with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to develop more flexible training options.
The flexibility could come through increasing the use of “accredited prior experiential learning” (APEL), where nurses who have experience working in the community could receive credits towards their registration.
Having seen a draft version of the plan, Nursing Times last week revealed the NMC had been asked to review entry requirements for the third part of the register which covers nurses who work in the community.
Chief nursing officer Dame Christine Beasley and deputy chief executive of the NHS David Flory wrote to strategic health authorities and primary care trusts this week reminding them of their responsibility, set out in the operating framework, to ensure enough training places are commissioned to develop a “stronger health visiting service”.
The regions will have to increase the number of health visitors by an average of 51.9% over the plan period.
Unite’s lead professional officer Obi Amadi welcomed the recruitment drive and described the plan as “a rare piece of hopeful news”.
She said: “We plan to work with ministers to see this through to its conclusion and beyond the 2015 target date. Achieving this number will require a real effort by all concerned, but we think it can be done.
“The strategic health authorities have been given to the end of March to come up with plans as to how they will implement this action plan. We will be watching closely how this is all panning out.”
She added: “The plan has been a long time coming and we won’t expect a large tranche of new health visitors being trained until the academic year 2012-13.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter backed the strategy.
He said: “Health visitors carry out a range of measures which have a lifelong positive impact on the health and quality of the life of children. The Royal College of Nursing welcomes the opportunity to work closely with government in its endeavours to break what can sometimes be a cycle of deprivation.”
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