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Director of nursing warns NHS to 'keep pace' with health visitor target

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The government’s director of nursing for public health has told managers to ensure posts are being created for newly qualified health visitors.

Viv Bennett has written to senior NHS managers reminding them they must fund new posts in line with the government’s national health visitor strategy. The move comes a month before around 1,200 new health visitors are expected to qualify.

All primary care trusts have previously agreed the number of extra posts they must fund in 2010-13 in order to meet the government’s ambition of having 4,200 more health visitors working in England by 2015.

According to the government’s plan, this September should see the end of the long-term decline in health visitor numbers, with a 10% increase predicted by next April.

In the letter, Professor Bennett and NHS deputy chief executive David Flory highlight the requirement for newly qualified health visitors to be “effectively supported and deployed”.

As well as telling managers to ensure recruitment was in line with the “agreed plans for growing the workforce”, the letter also reminds employers that practice teachers should be available to provide support to all newly qualified health visitors.

A Nursing Times investigation last year found many PCTs were reluctant to spend already limited resources on extra health visitors.

Professor Bennett and her team have been quick to intervene where PCTs have not been creating posts in line with their agreed allocation, Nursing Times understands.

She said the letter was part of the “ongoing endeavour” to keep the health visitor commitment at the forefront of senior managers’ minds over the next year while the NHS reforms are taking place.

“This is [being] very closely performance managed. If the numbers are not keeping pace with the trajectory we will want to know why,” she told Nursing Times.

Currently 47 NHS community service providers are advertising close to 100 health visitor posts on the NHS jobs website. The figure is way short of the 1,200 due to qualify next month, but many trainees are expected to move straight into posts at the organisation where they have been training.

Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi told Nursing Times the union would be keeping a close eye on what happened in September. “I’m still not confident that enough posts will be created,” she said.

Senior health visitor adviser Cheryll Adams added: “Health visiting remains in a very vulnerable position with many health visitors getting close to retirement age. It’s enormously encouraging that the department is continuing to drive this policy.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Unfortunately this is likely to be at the expense of other nursing posts. Shame it cannot be instead of the ever increasing number of managers.

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  • if health visiting could recruit from a wider graduate workforce and use direct entry training programmes, we'd have good quality applicants to the health visiting profession AND nursing would be able to retain it's workforce.

    Mind, it's just possible that nurses may want to get out of nursing because they recognise that health visiting is a really wonderful satisfying change of career!

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