The union’s Community Practitioners and Health Visitor’s Association (CPHVA) says universities are struggling to fill places on health visiting courses due to lack of demand from cash-strapped employers.
NHS training body Health Education England (HEE) has admitted that the number of training places commissioned in 2015/16 is set to be 12 per cent below the target figure of 1,042.
Dave Munday, CPHVA professional officer, said the shortfall backs up evidence submitted by its members that lack of demand for training places from employers is an indication “of less confidence in the system” due to public health cuts.
He added that the figures also call into question HEE’s plan to commission 817 health visitor training places in 2016/17.
He said: “I'm hearing of examples, such as one university in the north of England that has 10 commissioned places but the local trusts will only be taking five of those up because of funding and future job concerns. This is a picture that I'm being told is being repeated at other universities.”
Munday added that the transfer of responsibility for commissioning health visitor services to councils last year is also affecting demand due to “wider local authority funding cuts”.
However, HEE attributes the current shortfall in commissioned training places to the rapid growth of the profession in recent years – the coalition government recruited an extra 4,100 health visitors between 2011 and 2015.
In March, Munday wrote to Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, HEE director of nursing, to raise CPHVA members’ concerns about lack of demand among employers for training places.
This includes a local trust that normally provides 12 places for two universities, one in Yorkshire and the Humber, which will not be taking any health visitor students in 2016/17 due to “significant budget cuts”.
Another university, in the south east of England, has been told by a local authority that it does not want any more health visitors.
In her response, Professor Bayliss-Pratt said that “we have no evidence to date to suggest” that the planned training commissions for 2016/17 “will not be achieved”.
Last November, Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Spending Review that there would be a 3.9 per cent real-terms cut in public health funding over the next five years. This comes on top of £200m axed from council public health budgets in 2015/16.
The move has led to councils warning that cuts to health visiting services will need to be made as a result of having less public health funding.