A group of unions and organisations representing nurses and children is calling on the government to halt cuts to health visitor services in England.
In a letter to The Times newspaper today, they warn that health visitor funding must be protected to secure remaining services and their major contribution to public health.
“Health visitors are simply too important to be forced out by financial concerns”
The letter is signed by key organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the National Children’s Bureau.
The organisations note that is now five years since the launch of the Health Visitor Implementation Plan, which saw significant funds invested in training more than 4,000 new health visitors.
But they warn that posts are now being cut throughout England, largely as a result of councils attempting to save money following the transfer of the commissioning of health visitor services from the NHS to local authorities in October 2015.
With the NHS facing an ever increasing demand for its services, the letter states that health visitors have a vital and unique role in preventing ill health, promoting healthy lifestyles and ensuring all children have a safe and supportive home environment.
Cuts to services risk several government priorities from tackling the obesity crisis in adults and children, to promoting social inclusion, it warns.
According to latest workforce figures cited in the letter, health visitor numbers in England have been falling since the start of 2016.
There has been a significant drop of 433 posts between March and April alone – down from 10,144 to 9,711 – reveal the provisional figures published last month by NHS Digital.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that this drop is just the start of a significant reduction in the number of health visitor services, due to cuts in local authority budgets, the letter adds.
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Health visitors are simply too important to be forced out by financial concerns.
“Cutting health visiting roles would prove more expensive in the long term by putting added pressure on already overstretched GPs, hospitals and other health services,” she said.
“The government needs to protect the funding for these vital services – the health of the nation is at stake,” she added.
Full list of letter signatories:
- Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, executive director, Institute of Health Visiting
- Obi Amadi, lead professional officer (strategy, policy and equalities), Unite
- Professor Maureen Baker CBE, chair of the Royal College of GPs
- Professor Woody Caan, professorial fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health
- Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary, RCN
- Dr Carol Ewing, vice president for health policy, RCPCH
- Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive, National Children’s Bureau
- Dr Rajalakshmi Lakshman, consultant in healthcare and children’s public health
- Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive, Queen’s Nursing Institute
- Jeremy Todd, chief executive, Family Lives
- Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC