Health visitors have urged the government to reverse cuts to public health budgets, warning of a continuing “alarming” reduction in the number of NHS nurses working in 0-5-year-old services as a result.
The latest official data shows the number of health visitors working in the NHS in England has dropped by 18% since local councils became responsible for commissioning public health services in autumn 2015.
“The government may soon have to face the effects of some of the lowest ratios of health visitors to children…in living memory”
According to NHS Digital, in July 2017 there were 8,449 whole-time-equivalent health visitors, compared with 10,309 in October 2015.
As first revealed by Nursing Times, the number of full-time NHS health visitors has been steadily reducing since a high point reached in October 2015.
Prior to this, there had been an increase after the Conservative Party pledged to boost the size of the workforce, by around 50% between 2011 and 2015, following staffing concerns.
In a letter sent today to the Chancellor, ahead of the government publishing its budget next week, the Institute of Health Visiting said the loss of health visitors was “alarming” and warned staffing could “rapidly be approaching an all-time low”.
It highlighted that when local authorities started commissioning health visiting services, the government reduced public health budgets by 6.2% in the space of a year, followed by annual 3.9% cuts until 2020.
The IHV stressed the vital role health visitors played in supporting families to lay the foundations for their child’s mental wellbeing and in reducing the impact of health inequalities.
Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the IHV, said the impact of the cuts on babies and children was “worrying and upsetting”.
“We know so much today with respect to what can influence children’s outcomes across their life course and in turn benefit the whole country,” she said.
“As a nation, we cannot afford not to invest in our children as they are our future. Yet recently their needs seem to have become invisible against the many competing demands being made on government and the NHS,” said Dr Adams.
“The work of the health visitor often goes unseen, until you take it away.The government may soon have to face the effects of some of the lowest ratios of health visitors to children experienced by this country in living memory,” she warned.
“We need urgent action from the government to increase their investment in public health prevention and early intervention to ensure that health visitors can continue to give every child the opportunity to have the best start in life,” she said.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We mandate health visitor checks for all children aged 0-5 so they get the best start in life.
”This has been supported with a £16 billion investment for public health over the current spending period, and we have 800 new training places to continue to develop the health visitor workforce.”