Health visitors 'quitting over fears they are unable to protect children'

By Joe Lepper

| 20 September 2018

Health visitors are leaving the profession amid concerns that they are unable to keep children safe due to ongoing public health cuts, it has been claimed.

The Institute of Health Visiting said some health visitors are leaving the profession because they do not want to be held accountable for being unable to safeguard children. Picture: Institute of Health Visiting

Research published by the Labour Party shows that 130 out of 152 (85 per cent) councils plan to reduce their public health budgets this year by a combined total of £96.3m compared with 2017/18 levels. This includes cuts by 93 councils totalling £16.1m to statutory public health services for children aged up to five years old, such as health visiting.

The Institute of Health Visiting said the cuts are having a "devastating" impact on the quality of services health visitors can provide, and warned that some are leaving the profession because they do not want to be held accountable for being unable to safeguard children. 

Union Unite said health visiting is "under sustained attack" as a result of funding cuts, with local provision blighted by lack of resources, rising demand and heavy caseloads, which is threatening to put the safety of children are risk.

The Institute of Health Visiting (IHV) said it is concerned about the impact of cuts on health visitor morale and the safety of children.

NHS figures released last year showed that the number of health visitors fell by more than 10 per cent between October 2015 and January 2017.

"The cuts to public health budgets have had a devastating effect on the quality of many of the services that health visitors are able to provide to young families, but also on the profession itself," said IHV director Dr Cheryll Adams.

"As health visitor caseload sizes have risen, they have increasingly felt unsafe and many health visitors tell us they have chosen to leave the profession rather than be accountable for harm to children they now feel unable to prevent.

"This is a very sad and counterproductive situation as the costs will be felt elsewhere in the NHS and social care systems."

Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said the union knows of at least two councils were health visitors are being asked to work over capacity and in unsafe conditions, hampering their ability to safeguard children.

The union has also heard that "management consultants" at one health trust have been telling health visitors which cases to close.

"Sadly, the Labour Party's findings echo what our public health members are telling us on a daily basis," Carpenter said.

"It is a tale of continual cuts, lack of resources, overworked staff and rising demand from families because of the austerity imposed by the Tories since 2010. It has been compounded, unfortunately, in some cases, by poor and indifferent management."

The Labour Party analysis, which is based on latest Ministry of Health, Communities and Local Government spending figures for local authorities, also found that 80 councils are cutting specialist drug and alcohol prevention services aimed at children and young people, by a total of £7.3m.

In addition, 72 councils are cutting funding to tackle childhood obesity, by £758,416 in total.

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "These cuts are pushing us to a public health crisis. Ahead of the government's 10 Year Plan for the NHS, ministers must reverse these cuts because no plan for the NHS can work without a properly funded plan for prevention too."

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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