Health visitors and school nurses are preparing an election checklist with the overall aim of protecting public health budgets from council cuts, union leaders have said.
They will “hammer out” the checklist at a meeting tomorrow, which will then be given to election candidates, encouraging them to campaign for public health budgets to be “properly ringfenced”.
“Progress on health visitor numbers in recent years can’t be allowed to slide”
About 100 community nurses were originally planning to lobby MPs on Wednesday in Westminster to generate support for the public health agenda covering services for families and young children.
But because MPs will now be in their constituencies preparing for the general election on 8 June, the emphasis will now be on preparing a campaign checklist, said the union behind the initiative.
Unite said it wanted to ensure election candidates were “fully appraised” about what was happening to public health services since councils in England took over commissioning from the NHS in 2015.
The union, which includes the Community and Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, said it was “seriously concerned” about a consistent fall in staff numbers since a peak in 2015.
In 2010 the Conservative Party committed to increase the size of the health visiting workforce in England by more than 50% over five years, due to concerns over staffing levels.
By March 2015 it had almost reached its target and there were 12,077 WTE health visitors in the workforce.
However, over the subsequent two years, cuts to local authority public health budgets have put a strain on services.
Unite highlighted workforce figures showing that health visitor numbers had “slumped” by nearly 9% since the transfer of commissioning in 2015, as previously exclusively reported by Nursing Times.
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Latest provisional NHS workforce data shows there were 9,410 whole time equivalent (WTE) health visitors in the NHS in October, compared with 10,309 at the same time the year before.
In addition, the NHS Digital figures show there were 2,561 WTEs in the school nurse workforce in the NHS in October 2016, compared with 2,725 in October 2015.
As a result, over 12 months, the number of health visitors working in the NHS in England has fallen by 8.7% (899 WTE posts) and school nurses by 6% (164 WTE posts).
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “We want to draw up a campaign checklist on public health so that our members can lobby the prospective parliamentary candidates and gain their support for the next parliament.
Obi Amadi, Unite
“We want to highlight to the candidates that the progress on health visitor numbers in recent years can’t be allowed to slide, otherwise it will be families with young children and babies who will suffer,” she said.
“NHS health visitor numbers have been dropping almost consistently from month to month since October 2015, when the workforce was at its largest size recorded in more than a decade,” she noted.
Ms Amadi called on the government to “secure the future” of community nursing by increasing and ringfencing money for workforce and the “vital work” it carried out with families on a daily basis.
“The ‘public health’ purse strings are now held by local councils, struggling with unrelenting cuts from Whitehall,” she said.
“While, in theory, public health budgets are ringfenced, in practice, council bosses can interpret what constitutes ‘public health’ in flexible ways,” she added.