Health visitors have urged prime minister David Cameron to introduce a number of measures to safeguard their profession in England in the face of local authority budget cuts.
In a letter, Unite’s Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association expressed “serious concerns” that the recent boost to the workforce – which they say brought staff numbers to a safer level – are now “quickly being undermined”.
The previous coalition government’s target to ensure 4,200 extra health visitors by April 2015 was almost met, bringing the total health visitor workforce to just under 12,100.
“If nothing is done… the good work achieved through the health visitor implementation plan will be quickly undone”
But since October cash-strapped local councils have become responsible for commissioning 0 to 5 services instead of NHS England.
They received an unexpected £200m in-year cut to their public health grant in 2015-16 and in 2016-17 will see a further reduction of £77m.
In recent weeks, local councils in different regions have announced cuts or reviews of health visiting services.
These include a 17% reduction to health visiting and school nursing services by Barnsley Council in Yorkshire, which will see the services brought in-house.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in central London has also confirmed its funding for school nursing and health visiting services will be reduced in July by both Lambeth Council and Southwark Council.
In the letter to the prime minister, the CPHVA said these “significant” cuts to health visitor budgets would cause “long-lasting damage”.
It called on Mr Cameron to introduce a number of measures, including extending the mandatory requirement for local councils to ensure families receive at least five checks from health visitors before children reach the age of two and a half.
Currently, this requirement will not continue beyond March. The CPHVA wants this to be a legal minimum “well beyond 2017”.
It called for action to ensure this number of visits is not considered a maximum, noting Scotland’s health visitor services provide 11 visits.
In addition, the letter urges the prime minister to ensure all regions of England maintained the minimum number of health visitors that were considered needed by the end of the government’s health visitor implementation plan, which almost boosted the workforce to its target last year.
It also calls for “urgent re-investment” in public health and the reversal of cuts already announced, warning against financial reductions to other services including school nursing and sexual health.
“If nothing is done to action the issues identified, then we believe that the good work achieved through the health visitor implementation plan in England between 2011 and 2015 will be quickly undone,” said the letter, which was signed by Unite professional office Dave Munday.