Health visitors have experienced increasing workloads over the past year, with almost half claiming a child death similar to the high profile case of Baby P was likely to happen within their trust, a survey has found.
Despite a recent boost to the workforce, health visitors are not feeling the benefit due to a rise in the population coupled with cuts to the services providing support to the families they visit, it has been claimed.
Of the 750 people responding to a survey by Unite’s Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, 89% said their workloads had involved taking on more responsibility for children and families in the past 12 months.
“Despite the boost in [workforce] numbers…health visitors are not reporting the benefits on the frontline”
An incident similar to the Baby P case in 2007 – in which a toddler died following months of abuse - was said to be “somewhat” or “very” likely by 47% of survey respondents.
When asked what causes them stress at work, the vast majority of health visitors - 85% - said the demands of the job.
On average, around 40% of health visitors believe staffing levels have gone up in the past two years, while nearly 30% said they had gone down and just over 25% claimed they had stayed the same.
However, there were regional differences - in London and eastern areas the overall trend was reversed, with nearly 40% of respondents saying health visitor numbers had decreased, while 30% said they had improved.
The health visitor workforce has been boosted over the past few years due to a target set by the previous government to increase it by 4,200 practitioners.
“[There are an] increasing number of children/families as the population rises and cuts to associated services, such as children’s mental health services”
Although the target was just missed, by its deadline in March there were 3,985 more health visitors in post than there were in 2010 – bringing the total workforce to just over 12,000.
Despite this increase, nearly 75% of survey respondents said it was not always feasible for the health visiting team in their area to carry out the expected five checks with every child before they reach the age of two and a half.
When commissioning of health visiting services transfers from NHS England to local authorities in October, these five checks will become mandated.
Unite professional officer Dave Munday said: “Despite the boost in numbers…health visitors are not reporting the benefits on the frontline.
“This is due to the increasing number of children/families as the population rises and cuts to associated services, such as Surestart and children’s mental health services.”
He said the boost had only corrected previous large cuts to the service and that further efforts needed to be made to bring in more people to the profession.
Mr Munday also warned against the government’s planned £200 million reduction to local authority public health funding which could see health visiting and supporting services reduced.
“The government needs to reverse this decision as it will impact negatively both on health visiting services, as they are not ‘protected’ from the cuts in themselves, and the associated services that support families,” he said.