Health visitors have been urged to highlight their value to local authorities, following concerns about the future of their role when councils take over commissioning early years’ services next year.
Local authorities will become responsible for planning and funding services for children under the age of five in October 2015. But the commissioning guidelines they are given may not stipulate that health visitors should carry out this work, unions have warned.
“We all need to make sure commissioners are very clear about our value – and how we change the health and lives of families”
Instead, leaders of the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association said they expected commissioners to simply be told they must provide public health services for under-fives.
The CPHVA, which is part of the Unite union, claimed that a similar situation occurred when councils had taken over the commissioning of school nursing services in April 2013.
Speaking at the CPHVA annual conference last week, Unite professional officer Rosalind Godson said: “It was not the case that local authorities had to commission school nursing. The local authority was told to commission public health for five- to 19-year-olds – that does not mean they have to employ school nurses.”
Initially, she said services had been “lifted and shifted” intact from NHS commissioners to local authorities, but recently councils had started to look at the detail of where job roles had been assigned.
Ms Godson advised delegates to be “very wary” about this scenario being repeated with health visitor commissioning. She urged them to explain their job responsibilities to councils and also the wider public, to help ensure they were employed in the same numbers in the future.
“In any instance of talking to someone – whether it’s at your church, golf club, gym or anywhere else – you need to make sure you tell them all that health visitors and school nurses do,” she said.
CPHVA lead professional officer Obi Amadi added: “We all need to make sure commissioners are very clear about our value – it’s about articulating the value that we bring to the table and how we change the health and lives of families.”
Under the government’s NHS reforms announced in 2010, responsibility for commissioning public health services for five to 19 year olds was switched from the NHS to local councils in 2013. However, the transfer of commissioning for under-fives was delayed until 2015 – after the government’s deadline for recruiting an extra 4,200 health visitors.
Professor Viv Bennett, director of nursing at the Department of Health and Public Health England, said: “We have been working very closely with directors of public health, local authorities and health visitor teams to make sure health visitors’ work is used to maximum effect.
“Local Authorities are positive about commissioning 0-5 public health services as an opportunity to join universal and early intervention to benefit local families and communities,” she said.
“They see health visitors as vital, from community development to leading and providing universal services and expert support for families in difficulty,” she added.