Health visitor workforce plan 'urgently needed'

Nina Jacobs
Monday, October 21, 2019

An urgent workforce plan is needed to tackle dwindling health visitor numbers and consistently high vacancy rates, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

The LGA warned only a "properly resourced, integrated" strategy would help stem the "steady decline" in the number of health visitors over the past four years.

The membership organisation said it had offered to work with the Department of Health and Social Care, the NHS and Health Education England to help deliver a plan that would see the "right number" of training places commissioned.

It would also develop new policies to ensure health visiting remained an "attractive and valued" profession, the LGA added.

Its comments come ahead of a parliamentary debate timetabled for Wednesday 23 October, sparked by former children's minister Tim Loughton. The Conservative MP submitted a question to the government asking what action it would take to reverse the fall in health visitor numbers. 

In June, the Institute of Health Visiting issued a stark warning that health visiting services in many parts of England were being "eroded" due to funding cuts by councils. 

It followed news that council leaders in Suffolk were considering plans to slash its health visitor workforce by 25 per cent to save £1m.

Health visitors have also called for the number of statutory visits they make to be ramped up from five to eight to better support disadvantaged families.

The LGA said the retirement of qualified nurses coupled with too few trainees entering the profession meant it had experienced a decline in numbers since 2015.

Training places for health visitors were also reduced as a result of the closure of the health visitors implementation programme, leaving many councils struggling to retain sufficient numbers it added.

A briefing published by the LGA said councils had seen a "significant reduction" to their public health budgets for the period between 2015/16 and 2019/20. 

"The recent announcement of a real-terms one per cent increase in the public health grant for 2020/21 is welcome, but is unlikely to address the impact of the past reductions to funding," it said.

The LGA is calling for the government to pledge increased funding to support councils to deliver a "refreshed and modernised" healthy child programme.

"In addition to ensuring we have a sufficient supply of specialist public health nurses, a workforce strategy should recognise the benefits of having a diverse range of health visiting, school nursing, children's centre and other early years staff in children's and health services.

"We believe that this will lead to better outcomes for children and families," it said.

Last week Unite general secretary Len McCluskey became the latest prominent figure to support health visitors in their pay dispute with Lincolnshire County Council. 

The dispute has seen health visitors take 32 days of industrial action with a ballot on possible further strike action due to close on Friday.

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