Health visitors must be assigned to GP practices and hold regular meetings with doctors in future to link up their work better, according to updated guidance for commissioners from NHS England.
It is hoped the move will redress the current “poor” link between the two professions.
The 2015-16 National Heath Visiting Core Service Specification states that, from April, commissioners should ensure service providers have a named health visitor assigned for each GP practice.
This should help the two professionals liaise, share information and work together in the best interests of families, said the guidance. It also stipulated that there should be an “agreed schedule of regular contact meetings for collaborative service delivery”, which must be “audited and actioned on a regular basis”.
“This is talking again about how to maintain that link between GPs and health visitors”
The new requirements have been drawn up ahead of the transfer of health visiting commissioning from NHS organisations to councils in October.
The Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association – part of the union Unite –welcomed the changes, saying it marked a return to the way primary services were delivered 30 years ago. “Health visitors used to be based in GPs and then in the early 90s they were taken out of GPs and put in clinics,” said Unite professional officer Rosalind Godson.
She added: “This is talking again about how to maintain that link between GPs and health visitors. It is [currently] poor, because there is no structural connection. They are not employed by the same organisations and they don’t go to the same meetings.”
Dr Michael Dixon, chair of primary care organisation the NHS Alliance, also welcomed the new requirement, noting that it would greatly benefit patients who often do not know which service is responsible for their family’s healthcare.
“We need to make sure we have enough health visitors, GPs and support staff to enable this to happen”
Dr Michael Dixon
Dr Dixon said: “It’s back to the future really…I miss the weekly meetings with the health visitor – and the district nurse – who covered the patients from my list”.
However, Dr Dixon warned that time pressures on GPs and health visitors meant it could be difficult to schedule the regular meetings that NHS England wants to happen.
He said GPs were currently stretched to the point where reserving half an hour a week to liaise with a health visitor could prove unfeasible. “We need to make sure we have enough health visitors, GPs and support staff to enable this to happen,” he said.
Other new requirements within the guidance include the provision of “suitable premises”, so there is office space available to health visitors.