Health visitor representatives have warned it will be “touch and go” as to whether the government reaches its target of ensuring 4,200 extra staff enter the profession by April 2015.
Latest workforce figures, published last week, show the government is only around half way to achieving its goal with less than a year to go.
As of July, the number of health visitors in the NHS stood at 10,298, meaning around 2,200 have joined since the government announced its target in May 2010 – when there were just 8,092.
“They’re going to be quite close in getting the 4,200, but it’s going to be really touch and go”
Professor Dame Sarah Cowley, trustee of the Institute of Health Visiting, said she was unsure whether the Department of Health would be able to recruit the additional 2,000 health visitors needed to meet its target by May.
However, she said the government could be “pretty close” to its projection, if the current crop of trainee health visitors took up posts within the next few months.
The latest figures – from the Health and Social Care Information Centre – show that in summer 2013 around 1,500 students began training, plus a further 1,000 by January, who would all be expected to secure jobs in the coming months.
Dame Sarah said: “They’re going to be quite close in getting the 4,200, but it’s going to be really touch and go.”
She warned that even if the target was met, demand had increased since the Tories made a pre-election commitment to double the workforce in 2008, which was subsequently backed up by a government announcement in 2010 and the Health Visitor Implementation Plan in 2011.
“We’ve now got more health visitors than we’ve had in a decade, but we still need more because of the increases in birth rates, health needs and poverty,” Dame Sarah told Nursing Times.
“A promise was made and we would like to see it delivered”
She added that to retain new health visitors in the profession, “very great care” needed to be taken to ensure they could cope with the “enormous needs” of patients.
Gavin Fergie, a professional officer at the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, which is part of the union Unite, said it was a “worry” to see the government so far away from its target.
He acknowledged that the number of students graduating could boost the figures, but said it would still be “tight”.
He added: “We recognise that the government responded to our pre-2010 election call for additional health visitors in England and were encouraged by their stance, but there have obviously been some difficulties along the way in certain parts of the country – London especially.
“We appreciate the effort that has gone into this, however a promise was made and we would like to see it delivered,” he said.
Department of Health spokesman said: “Huge progress has already been made to train and recruit health visitors and we are on target to have 4,200 more by next April.
“The latest figures show we have an extra 2,206 health visitors compared to May 2010 and that another 2,723 are due to complete training before next April – which will help new families get the best possible start in life,” he added.
The health visitor target through time
- March 2008 – David Cameron makes pre-election pledge to boost health visitor numbers in England by an extra 4,200 if voted into government
- May 2010 – Department of Health confirms target of increasing health visitor workforce over the next five years by 4,200 more than the 8,092 basline at the time
- February 2011 – Government publishes Health Visitor Implementation Plan for 2011-15
- July 2014 – Latest figures show health visitor workforce totals 10,298, meaning around 2,200 have been recruited since May 2010 but meaning another 2,000 are needed to reach the target
- April 2015 – Government deadline for adding an extra 4,200 health visitors to the workforce