Health visiting and family nurse services in Birmingham could face cuts after the local council revealed its plans for a single, integrated early years service would be delivered with only “a third of the budget needed”.
Birmingham City Council agreed last month to start looking for a provider to deliver the new health and wellbeing service next year - which will bring together health visiting, its family nurse partnership scheme for teenage mothers, pregnancy and breastfeeding support, children’s centres, and parenting support.
The move follows a review of early year services in the city and consultation with families, early years workers and other professionals.
However, local politicians have admitted it will be run with far less money than needed, prompting fears of job losses.
”Unfortunately [integration of early years services] will be done with about a third of the budget I think we need”
Currently the council spends between £21million and £22million on health visiting alone, according to healthcare union Unite.
But the budget for the new combined service will be £34million per year at the most – a maximum of £170million over five years with the potential to extend the contract for a further two years up to the value of £68million.
Brigid Jones, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, told a cabinet meeting at the end of last month the plans were “an exciting opportunity to build a new coherent service”, but added: “I just wish we were doing it with the budget we need”.
“At the moment our early years services across the city are uneven, unequal, disconnected and inconsistent,” she said. “There are pockets of really good practice but the system as a whole isn’t working as well as it could be.”
“We are extremely concerned about cuts to health visiting services and will be working with our members on our response”
“I would be doing this regardless of budget cuts because I think it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately it will be done with about a third of the budget I think we need,” she told the meeting.
Healthcare union Unite said it was “extremely concerned” about the impact of the changes and potential cuts to services and jobs.
“There will obviously be cuts but we don’t know where these will be,” said Jane Beach, Unite professional officer for health.
“We are extremely concerned about cuts to health visiting services and will be working with our members on our response.”
The council hopes to award the five-year contract to one leading provider although it could be taken on by two organisations working in partnership. It is due to launch in September 2017.
”Regarding the potential for job losses…there will be a second phase of consultation with all stakeholders before any decisions are taken”
Birmingham City Council spokesman
A draft service specification shows a wide range of services are expected to be delivered including all standard health visiting checks, routine breastfeeding support and maternal mental health assessments - as well as ensuring more targeted support for children with disabilities and complex needs.
“In particular there will be a named health visitor for each GP practice and midwifery team, with an agreed schedule of regular contact meetings for collaborative service delivery,” said the document.
The service will also need to ensure families who need extra support can access advice and help by phone or in person during normal working hours, according to the draft document.
Birmingham City Council said it was too early to assess the impact of potential changes on jobs.
“Regarding the potential for job losses, we’re at a very early stage of the procurement process and there will be a second phase of consultation with all stakeholders, including trade unions, before any decisions are taken,” said a council spokesman.
He said reductions in funding to councils from central government meant all local authorities had less money to spend on frontline services.