The health visiting implementation plan aims to increase the health visitor workforce from its current level of around 8,000 to nearly 12,300 by April 2015.
The challenge is formidable but exciting.
It’s great news for the profession, children, families and communities who benefit, but such an increase brings issues of recruitment, training, support and retention into sharp relief.
The first two years in post for qualified health visitors are the most formative, which is why the new ‘Health Visitor Journey’, as set out in the Department’s latest report ‘A Health Visiting Career’, aspires to make those years as productive and nurturing as possible.
Position of strength
Newly qualified health visitors, and those involved in their recruitment and development, should be heartened that they begin their two years as ‘advanced beginners.’ As one health visiting practice teacher said: “They have been taught the skills and knowledge required to be considered fit for purpose…reality hits when they’re away from the comfort zone of a caseload designed to meet their needs.”
This is a key point. How can the organisation and profession support newly qualified health visitors to build on experience and develop confidence to work with more and more complex cases as independent practitioners?
An effective and focused induction seems a good place to start.
The report recommends that new health visitors enjoy so called ‘protected time’, an initial period of at least two weeks without a formal caseload, allowing space for fresh starters to get to know the local area, its population and particular needs. This ring-fenced time also allows opportunities to meet key colleagues and third parties, including midwives, school nurses and safeguarding teams. Health visitors should never feel that they are operating in isolation.
The journey or pathway described in the report also emphasises the need to protect the health and wellbeing of health visitors themselves. It makes sense that colleagues who feel fully supported by their teams and line management will be better able to serve the needs of families, children and communities.
What do I want and where am I going?
The report also sets out a clearer vision for long-term career progression. In practice, this means the establishment of a national career framework, improved access to career information and the identification and encouragement of special interests. Allowing health visitors to play to their strengths, while ensuring a firm grounding in general principles, can only help boost retention.
As the profession celebrates 150 years of health visiting, this role is more important than ever. The new career path is a demonstration of the will to channel that positivity through the next generation of health visitors.