School nursing services in West London are to receive 50% funding cuts over the next three years, following a local council decision to go ahead with plans to re-allocate public health money.
Ealing Council will gradually reduce its budget for the £1.25m service by £600,000 by 2017-18, which will result in reduced attendance at safeguarding meetings by school nurses and stopping some information services for children.
“This will lead to cuts in staffing levels, and particularly in the number of qualified school nurses”
Activities such as the National Child Measurement Programme will also require additional assistance from other local authority-commissioned health services as a result of the cuts, according to the council.
London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, which currently provides the service, said this level of cuts will lead to job losses for school nurses.
Meanwhile, proposed cuts to drug and alcohol services will also go ahead, which will see a budget loss of £1.587m phased in over three years.
The council acknowledged the change will mean “reduced availability of doctor, nurse and psychologist time leading to a service that may be less flexible with reduced client choice”.
But planned reductions of 50% to sexual health services in the borough have been put on hold until October.
This is to allow the council to consider findings from a London wide scheme that is expected to propose ways to further integrate sexual health services across 22 participating boroughs.
Papers from an Ealing Council cabinet meeting this week show the funding reduction to school nursing for 2015-16 – a cut of £154,000 – is slightly less than an amount originally proposed due to the time needed to give notice to the provider trust.
However, this means the largest portion of the cuts – a reduction of £346,000 – will now be felt in 2016-17, followed by a £100,000 reduction in the final year.
In its response to a public consultation on the proposals, the trust said: “This will lead to cuts in staffing levels, and particularly in the number of qualified school nurses – a specialist group which is difficult to recruit to.”
“Cabinet agreed £600,000 in savings for school nursing, to be phased in over three years”
The trust also disputed the council’s assumption that cuts in 2015-16 would not result in major changes to the services due to the school immunisation programme being paid for by NHS England from this year onwards.
It claimed the money it expected to receive for the immunisation programme would not be enough to offset the cuts from the council, meaning this year there would “inevitably be a major reduction in the [school nursing] service offer”.
However, council papers also confirmed that the local authority will extend its contract with London North West Healthcare for the school nursing service until September 2018.
This decision was made due to the current provider being “committed to working with the authority to deliver the service within the changing environment,” stated the papers, which also noted “economies of scale” from having the same provider for both school nursing and health visiting services.
A spokesman for the council said: “On 16 June cabinet agreed £600,000 in savings for school nursing, to be phased in over three years. From 2017-18 the service will include the national child measurement programme, safeguarding, healthcare plans for children and advice for schools.
“All cabinet decisions are subject to a call-in period of five working days from the date of publication of the minutes of the meeting,” he said.
Ministers handed councils control of budgets for the majority of public health services, including school nursing, in April 2013.
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The grant provided to councils by the Department of Health is ring-fenced but there is no obligation for it to be used to fund specific activities, leading to concerns that cash-strapped local authorities would attempt to use the funding to plug gaps elsewhere
Earlier this year, Nursing Times revealed that Ealing Council wanted to “re-profile” its public health grant, by slashing some public health services by up to 50% to boost other areas.
In the council’s original proposals, the changes would see around £10m cut and reallocated to other areas of public health.