Eight out of 10 English regions have been given increased targets for health visitor recruitment after the workforce continued to decline.
The Department of Health wants an extra 4,200 health visitors in post by 2015 on top of May 2010 levels when it was recorded there were 8,092 whole time equivalents working in England - nearly 400 above the current level.
Last month Nursing Times reported the department had discovered non-practicing health visitors employed by community service providers and members of health visiting teams not on part three of the register for specialist community public health nurses had been counted in the initial numbers, making them appear artificially high.
A combination of this miscounting and a continuing exodus from the profession saw the number of full time equivalent health visitors fall to 7,714 by July 2011, according to the DH annual report into its health visitor strategy.
This means almost 4,600 health visitor posts are needed to meet the target which was developed based on population need.
East of England’s target has increased by 29%, the South West by 22% and London and the North West both by 14%.
Only the North East appears to have made progress against the target, with an additional 84 health visitors in post between May 2010 and July 2011.
South East Coast’s target has been increased by 10% and the West Midlands by 3%.
Data for Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and South Central is complicated by the fact they have lost or acquired areas as primary care trusts have joined together into clusters.
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said she was “heartened” that there were an extra 1,200 training places this year but worried about the “will and ability” of SHAs to fund future training places.
She added: ‘We sincerely hope that the profession has reached the nadir in terms of numbers.”