Changes to legislation may further erode health visiting, union leaders have warned.
Unite/CPHVA is calling for an urgent meeting with health secretary Alan Johnson to discuss a change to the Nursing and Midwifery Order 2001, which sets out how the profession is regulated.
The change, recommended in the white paper Trust, Assurance and Safety, will see the words ‘nurse and midwife’ replace the word ‘registrant’.
The union argues that the word registrant recognises the ‘uniquely different’ skills of health visitors and that removing it would effectively say that health visitors are the same as nurses.
The term specialist community public health nurse was introduced in 2001 to cover health visitors and other specialist community nurses.
The union now wants the term health visitor reinstated in the statute to protect the future of the specialism.
Cheryll Adams, Unite/CPHVA acting lead professional officer, said: ‘Since it [health visitor] was taken out of statute, we have already seen a dramatic fall in health visitor numbers.
‘This is not an arcane and dry legal dispute but one that will have a real impact on the public health of the UK population,’ she added.
Meanwhile, Conservative leader David Cameron has pledged to increase the number of health visitors in England by 4,200 – over one-third of the current workforce of 12,000.
Mr Cameron said too much had been invested in Sure Start outreach workers. ‘We’re going to radically increase the number of health visitors so that every family can count on the proper, professional support they need. Health visitors are the kind of support that parents want,’ he said.
Following Mr Cameron’s comments, the government announced the locations of 20 new sites for its family nurse partnership programme, which involves intensive nurse-led home visits for vulnerable first-time young parents. A £30m expansion of the 10-site pilot was announced last year (NT News, 6 November, p5).