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Give it up for health visitors and protect public health

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I’m not normally one for the cavalcade of calendar awareness events that have become a bit of a public relations fad over the last decade, but this week was different – it was Health Visitor Week.


Nearly two years ago now – time flies – I had the support of my local health visiting teams, first in Barnet and then in Haringey after my wife and I moved with our new baby over the border.

It was reassuring for us to know we had someone to check on us and great to watch them at work observing and assessing our daughter with an expert’s eye.

They are a vital resource for new parents and an increasingly important part of the nation’s public health prevention work, by putting in place early foundations for a healthy life.

For a while, a relatively short while, health visiting seemed to be the one part of the nursing family that was going in the right direction, in terms of numbers and government policy.

“Health visiting seemed to be the one part of the nursing family that was going in the right direction”

After hard lobbying by the Community Practitoners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, the Department of Health launched its Health Visitor Implementation Plan with a pledge to boost the workforce by an extra 4,200 staff between 2011 and 2015.

Unfortunately, it now seems that this period should be viewed as halcyon times.

The transfer of public health commissioning from the NHS to local authorities has, almost inevitably, resulted in threats to services in some areas. In fact, there are worrying suggestions that services aimed at children and young people are bearing the brunt of council public health spending cuts.

There may be further trouble ahead, as the statutory requirement for young children to receive five checks by health visitors before they reach the age of two and a half is due to expire in spring 2017.

If no action is taken, the checks will no longer be mandated from March 2017, taking away another level of protection for health visiting services from council cuts.

“Holding a national event each year to raise awareness of the vital role of health visitors cannot hurt, but something more concrete is clearly needed”

What’s to be done? Well certainly holding a national event each year to raise awareness of the vital role of health visitors cannot hurt, but something more concrete is clearly needed.

To coincide with Health Visitor Week, a new guide has been launched for health visiting teams to measure the outcomes and impact of their practice.

The toolkit, developed by the Institute of Health Visiting, has been launched to help teams demonstrate their value to local commissioners. Quite rightly, the institute noted there was a growing body of evidence that health visitors had a positive outcome on health improvement.

I urge all health visiting teams to have a look at the guide and start demonstrating their value to their new financial chiefs in local authorities up and down the country with hard, irrefutable evidence.

On a softer note, my baby has now become a toddler and watches a TV programme in which the puppet characters are encouraged to celebrate their local crime-fighting reggae band of mice and “give it up for the Easy Crew”.

So I’m going to adapt that slightly and say let’s give it up for health visitors during their special week and do all we can to protect the future of our country’s health by protecting their jobs and roles.

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