Latest figures confirm that the government missed its target to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors by the end of March, though community nurse leaders have hailed the rise in staff numbers.
The new figures confirm fears that the target might be missed, based on data revealed by Nursing Times in March and previous warnings from community nursing leaders.
- Exclusive: Latest figures indicate health visitor target will be missed
- Exclusive: Minister ‘confident’ of hitting extra health visitors target
- Exclusive: Meeting health visitor recruitment target will be ‘touch and go’
The provisional figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal there were 12,077 whole-time equivalent health visitors in post in March. This is 3,985 more than in May 2010.
However, the coalition’s pledge when it came to power in 2010 was to boost the numbers by 4,200 to 12,292 by 1 April 2015. It subsequently announced the Health Visitor Implementation Plan in 2011 in order to expand and strengthen health visiting services.
“It is a great achievement, but disappointing that the big cities are where there are still big gaps”
The pledge followed years of campaigning by health visitors that there numbers had been in decline for some time and, in many areas, there were not enough to offer all families the support they needed.
Although the target was missed, the Institute of Health Visiting “warmly welcomed” the rise in staff numbers that had taken place nonetheless.
Dr Cheryll Adam, director of the institute, said: “’What a fantastic achievement this is, the beneficiaries will be children, families and communities up and down the country.”
Dame Sarah Cowley, emeritus professor at King’s College London and trustee of the institute, added: “The government missed their target of 4,200 health visitors, but only just – still an increase of 49.2% overall.
“It is a great achievement, but disappointing that the big cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester – are where there are still big gaps,” she said.
There was only a 37% increase in London, although it needed 50%, and some other parts of the South also needed more than the 63% rise that they got.
The institute said the challenge was now to maintain the momentum, especially during the “summer dip”.
It is to be “expected that there will be some slippage at this time of year”, noted the institute, as posts were left unfilled awaiting new students.
It added that the new figures suggested nearly 7,000 students needed to be trained in order to get 4,000 health visitors in post, due to poor retention levels.
One of its current projects is seeking to identify what is needed to help keep trained health visitors in post.