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Children ‘at risk’ from cuts to health visitor and school nurse roles, warns RCN

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Cuts to crucial school nurse and health visiting services are jeopardising the health of England’s children and young people, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

“Plummeting” numbers of both, combined with cuts to public health funding, were putting children’s health at risk, claimed the RCN in a new report published today.

“If these cuts continue, we’re heading for more health problems”

Janet Davies

It highlighted figures that it said showed the number of health visitors had fallen by 1,000 since 2015, when there were more than 12,000.

It also noted that there had been a 16% drop in full time school nurses between 2010 and 2017 – despite the number of school age pupils increasing by more than 450,000 during that time.

Both nursing roles played an essential part in promoting healthy mental and physical development, safeguarding and providing a critical link between school, home and the community, said the RCN.

However, since being transferred from the NHS to local councils, services have “borne the brunt” of the government’s £200m cuts to public health, noted the college. As a result, it warned that “many vulnerable children may be falling through the cracks”.

Royal College of Nursing

RCN Congress 2017

Janet Davies

The RCN also noted that the trend jeopardised the progress made by the government’s Health Implementation Plan, which boosted the health visiting workforce by around 4,000 between 2011 and 2015.

It said it was calling on the next government to provide the resources needed for all local authorities to provide strong and effective health visiting and school nursing services for all children.

The report – titled The Best Start: The Future of Children’s Health – was unveiled during this year’s RCN’s annual conference in Liverpool.

The college’s warning follows concerns increasingly being raised about cuts to the two roles, nationally and locally, as previously reported by Nursing Times.

As exclusively revealed by us in February this year, the number of health visitors working in the NHS in England has fallen by almost 9% in the space of a year.

Meanwhile, cash-strapped councils up and down the country have proposed changes to traditional service models for 0-19-year-olds, in order to make savings.

Speaking on the new report, Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Cuts to these critical services risk not only the health of our children, but also the future of our country.”

As recently reported by Nursing Times, a series of protests have been held by fellow union Unite, both in Westminster and other parts of the country, to highlight falling health visitor numbers.

Ms Davies added: “There’s a wealth of evidence that ill health in childhood can have a detrimental impact in adulthood,” she said. “If these cuts continue, we’re heading for more health problems, more inequality and even more pressure on our public services down the line.

“Cuts are undermining previous progress. We’ve already seen 1,000 health visitors gone since 2015 and numbers continue to decline,” said Ms Davies.

She said: “The next government needs to secure these services and thus secure the progress made over the past 10 years.”

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