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Protest over plans to cut health visitors and school nurses

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A protest against plans to cut health visitor and school nurse jobs in York is to take place in the city later today.

Up to 16% of community nursing posts could be lost under plans being developed by the City of York Council, according to union Unite, which is organising the demonstration.

“We understand that up to 10 full-time equivalent jobs could be at ris. Health promotion…will be much diminished”

Mark Fieldhouse

The union said it wanted to alert families to the council plans, which could put up to 10 whole-time-equivalent nurse jobs at risk.

City of York Council is currently consulting on a new service for children and young people and is due to make a decision by the middle of May.

A spokeswoman for the council said cutting 10 jobs was the “worst case scenario” and it would do everything possible to keep any redundancies “to an absolute minimum”.

It took over the employment of the area’s school nurses and health visitors from an NHS provider in April 2016, following which new workers were brought onto the local authority’s terms and conditions for employment.

As part of the consultation, which runs until 30 April, the council now wants to bring all nurses onto its terms, but said “for many staff this will mean little change”.

“We urge [the people of York] to pledge their support by coming to Thursday’s demonstration”

Mark Fieldhouse

Since October 2015, local authorities have been responsible for commissioning both health visitor and school nursing services in England. It comes at the same time that the Department of Health has cut public health funding for local councils.

Unite claimed the government’s cuts were causing public health services to be “sacrificed”. It warned that York council’s proposed job losses would lead to a “much diminished” service if they went ahead.

“We understand that up to 10 full-time equivalent jobs could be at risk, but we are pressing the council hard as to exactly what its plans are and the numbers of jobs under threat,” said Unite regional officer Mark Fieldhouse.

“What families with young children are facing is no role for school nurses, removing the link between health and education. Health promotion focussing on sex education, and smoking and drug abuse will be much diminished,” he said.

Mr Fieldhouse warned: “The infant feeding co-ordinator role is disappearing, leaving no support for mothers struggling with breastfeeding.

“The plan recognises the fundamental link between health and education, so we are planning a more responsive and relevant service”

Sharon Stoltz

“If the people of York believe in a vibrant and progressive healthy child service, we urge them to pledge their support by coming to Thursday’s demonstration and make their collective voice heard, so we can make the case to councillors,” he added.

“To top it all, the already hard-pressed community nurses face having their pay and employment conditions much reduced by moves to put them on City of York Council salary scales, when we believe that staff should remain on NHS terms and conditions,” he said.

The City of York Council stressed that conversations about the new service with staff, unions and the NHS, were still ongoing and a final decision would not be made until next month.

“The council has no intention of cutting health visitor services for children aged 0-5 and their families: they are legally mandatory and a priority in our Children and Young People’s Plan,” it said.

“It commits to give every child the best start in life with a focus on those who are most vulnerable to poorer health outcomes and health visitors are key to delivering this,” said Sharon Stoltz, director of public health at the council.

“The plan recognises the fundamental link between health and education, so we are planning a more responsive and relevant service that meets pupils’ needs alongside existing sexual health and substance misuse services already delivered direct to schools,” she said.

“The council has no intention of cutting health visitor services for children aged 0-5 and their families: they are legally mandatory and a priority”

Sharon Stoltz

Mz Stoltz added that it was a council priority to increase the number of mothers choosing to breastfeed.

“Far from leaving mothers to struggle, we will develop an infant feeding strategy which will also support our ambition to become a ‘breast feeding-friendly city’,” she said.

She noted that the council’s public health grant had been cut by £1.2m in recent years by the DH and that further reductions of £400,000 were due by 2019.

Savings would be made by redesigning the service, back office efficiencies and reduced management costs, she said.

“We will still invest over £2.2m a year in health visiting services and support to school-aged children to improve their health outcomes,” she said.

The demonstration will take place at St Helen’s Square in York, near the Mansion House/Guildhall entrance on 30 March between 5pm and 7pm.

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