Health visitor numbers are still dangerously low in some areas of England, and the frequency of children being seen by a health visitor remains a postcode lottery.
Latest figures, published last week by the Family and Parenting Institute, show that 122 PCTs in England have more than the maximum 250 children per health visitor – as recommended by the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association/Unite. Only 16 out of 138 trusts that replied to survey were able to stay within this ratio.
The institute’s latest survey shows that Lambeth has the highest number of children per health visitor, with over 894 children under five for each of its 33.38 whole time equivalent health visitors – compared County Durham, which has best ratio with one health visitor per 165 children.
Yinglen Butt, Lambeth PCT assistant director for children and young people, said: ‘We are disappointed that this report shows our ratio of health visitors to children as one of the lowest. We recognise the extra pressure this can place on our staff – who already do a great job – and on service users – who rightly expect the best from us.
‘To address this we have doubled the number of training places we offer and introduced a recruitment and retention premia to become more attractive to new recruits.’
A spokesperson for Barnet PCT, which has just over one health visitor per 833 children, said that the trust was trying to recruit six extra health visitors.
‘Resources are targeted to provide the most appropriate healthcare professional to meet the individual needs of the family… numerous healthcare staff… work together to provide these healthcare services for this age group,’ she said.
Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the institute, said: ‘This postcode lottery is unacceptable. We need a universal health visitor service so that all parents can have the support they want and need and children’s well-being can be safeguarded.’
For the first time the institute has also published details of PCT budgets for health visiting, which show a large gap between the biggest and smallest spenders on health visitors.
Wirral PCT allocated over £386 per child under five in the last financial year, while South West Essex Teaching PCT spent just over £60 per child.
The new survey findings are published ahead of a Department of Health and CPHVA/Unite summit on health visitors on 5 May.
The summit follows a government announcement in March that chief nursing officer Dame Christine Beasley would lead a programme of action on health visiting in response to Lord Laming’s progress report on child protection. The Laming report said there was a ‘desperate need’ for more health visitors.
Karen Reay Unite National Officer for Health said: ‘The FPI findings reinforce Unite/CPHVA’s long-standing demands that an extra 4,000 health visitors are employed and that training budgets for the next generation of health visitors are immediately restored.
‘We look to the DH summit on health visiting to formulate a practical programme of action over the next two years to address the crisis in the profession,’ she added.
The institute carried out its last health visitor survey in 2007 – details of which were revisited in a special feature published by Nursing Times in February.