Latest workforce figures indicate that the government will narrowly miss its target for recruiting 4,200 extra health visitors by the end of March.
Despite several thousand health visitors joining the NHS over the past five years, latest figures suggest the government will fail to boost the workforce by just over 50% by the end of the month.
A total of 3,890 extra whole-time equivalent health visitors are working in the health service, according to data collected from NHS England management at the end of February.
This brings the total WTE workforce to 11,982. However, the coalition’s pledge when it came to power in 2010 was to boost the numbers by 4,200 to 12,292 by 1 April 2015.
“I don’t think there has ever been a workforce that has increased by nearly 50% in four years”
The Department of Health told Nursing Times that 187 student health visitors were due to qualify by the end of March. But even if all of these trainees were to take up posts, the goal would still be missed by around 120.
A DH spokesman highlighted that the data it had provided was not official and the final size of the health visitor workforce on 1 April would be made available in three months’ time by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
In a statement on the latest figures, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “The expansion of the health visitor workforce has been one of the most rapid and successful in NHS history.
“Investment by government has reversed the historic decline in the number of health visitors – we are rapidly closing in on our target of 4,200 extra health visitors and expect to have over 4,500 more than in 2010 by September 2015.
“We have revitalised the service from one that varies around the country to one where every parent has access to a consistent service,” he added.
Cheryll Adams, director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said the boost in health visitor numbers had been a “miraculous achievement”, regardless of whether the government achieved its target.
“I don’t think there has ever been a workforce that has increased by nearly 50% in four years. That is an extraordinary success story,” said Ms Adams.
She also acknowledged the hard work by practice teachers who she noted had often been supporting several students at a time to help reach the target.
The recruitment target was confirmed by the government in May 2010, following a pre-election pledge by David Cameron in 2008.
In February 2011 the DH published its Health Visitor Implementation Plan for 2011-15, which laid out a call to action to expand the workforce.
As reported by Nursing Times last year, figures showed the health visitor workforce stood at 10,298 in July 2014, meaning around a further 2,000 needed to be recruited within eight months to meet the target.
Health minister Dan Poulter said in a subsequent interview that he was “confident” the government would reach its goal of 4,200 extra health visitors.