The government has pledged to double the size of the Family Nurse Partnership but has so far failed to clarify how this will affect previous announcements on health visitor recruitment.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley announced this week that “twice as many disadvantaged families and new mums and dads will get help” from the FNP programme by 2015. It currently provides intensive support from early pregnancy until the child is two years old to around 6,000 families in England.
Last week health minister Anne Milton said the NHS would recruit an additional 4,200 health visitors over the same period, fulfilling a pre election pledge. Ms Milton had told Nursing Times the extra health visitors would be “health visitors as we know health visitors” in terms of their training and pay.
In his announcement this week, Mr Lansley said: “I want to see the numbers of families who get this intensive support to double by 2015. This, together with our plans to put 4,200 new health visitors into the workforce, will ensure that more and more young families – particularly those living in disadvantaged areas – get the help they need.”
However, he did not explain whether the staff needed to double the FNP programme would be sourced from the 4,200 extra health visitors or would be additional to them.
A DH spokeswoman told Nursing Times more details on the workforce implications of the FNP pledge would be forthcoming.
She said: “Just over half of family nurses come from health visiting posts, but are then specially trained to deliver this programme. We will be setting out details of workforce expansion plans for both health visiting and the Family Nurse Partnership shortly.”
The Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, which is part of the union Unite, welcomed the plan to extend the FNP scheme.
But it too said it was “seeking clarification on whether the health visitors needed to boost the FNPs will be additional to – or come from – the extra 4,200 health visitors” announced by Ms Milton at its conference last week.
The union also raised concerns about funding for the existing FNP programme.
Unite professional officer Dave Munday said: “It is good news to hear of this extra investment, however, we already know of areas that are decommissioning the FNP programme part way through the pilot scheme, for example, NHS Stockport.”
The FNP programme, which is based on a similar US initiative, has been tested in England since April 2007. There are currently teams in 55 local authority or primary care trust areas.
The DH estimates local costs for Family Nurse Partnerships are around £3000 per family per year.