There must be no reduction in the number of mandatory visits that babies and their families in England should expect from their health visitor, the union representing the specialism has warned.
A government announcement is expected imminently on the whether the number of compulsory visits made to families by health visitors will be changed.
“There should be no backsliding by ministers on the number of mandated visits”
Legislation requiring the visits to be carried out on a mandatory basis is set to expire at the end of March 2017, but ministers are yet to reveal whether the status quo will be maintained or not.
The current regulations were designed to “maintain the momentum” achieved by the government’s former health visitor programme, which sought to significantly boost workforce levels.
But, as revealed last week by Nursing Times, the number of health visitors working in the NHS in England has already fallen by almost 9% in the space of a year, following the transfer of commissioning for children’s public health services from the health service to councils in October 2015.
Now Unite, which includes the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, has also restated concerns that the mandating of the visits could also be under threat.
It called this week for the current requirement for five health visitor “mandated” visits to continue, but with an extra – and sixth – visit added when the baby was about three-to-four months old.
The union said its concern was “underlined” by health visiting budgets now coming under the control of cash-strapped local authorities, with a number of public health nursing posts at risk across the country.
Obi Amadi, Unite
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “There can be no compromise on the health of newborn babies and young children – and there should be no backsliding by ministers on the number of mandated visits.
“The transfer of health visiting services to financially challenged local authorities in October 2015 has had a significant adverse impact on services which have been cut in many areas leaving families, uncertain and worried,” said Ms Amadi.
“Mandation has been used to help monitor and maintain service delivery,” she said. “Collection of this information could cease at the end of March 2017, unless parliamentary action is taken.”
In June, the Department of Health asked Public Health England to review the five mandated visits by health visitors, following the transfer of commissioning to councils.
Primarily, the review assessed the sustainability and effectiveness of health visiting and the 0-5 years Healthy Child Programme, and the impact of innovative service models will also be considered. But the findings are yet to be published.
Ms Amadi said: “The regulations state that there is a review of its effectiveness. This took place last summer and a report with recommendations has been on the minister’s desk since the autumn.”
She added: “At the very least, five mandated contacts with families by fully-qualified health visitors need to continue to improve the outcomes of and promote the health and well-being of babies and young children in England.
“We would argue that a sixth visit needs to be introduced at three-to-four months to reinforce immunisation messages, support continued breastfeeding, prepare for good weaning and nutrition and give accident prevention advice, as well as supporting maternal and child mental health,” she said.
The union contrasted the situation in England with Scotland, where they have eleven such visits. Wales also has five visits under its healthy child Wales programme.