I have just spent the most enjoyable time at the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) conference in York. The presentations were excellent and the event attracted informed and visionary senior nurses, such as the chief nursing officers of the four countries and chief nurse of Public Health England, Viv Bennett. They truly understand the issues facing nurses who work in the community, and are working hard to lead and support nurses in their role in creating the solutions.
As is often the case at conferences, it is the informal networking and meeting people that brings the greatest pleasure and inspiration. Seeing practitioners that have been community nurses for more than three decades, still as energetic and innovation-focused as the day they qualified, was a joy. I reconnected with people I knew as community nursing students, now experienced practitioners mentoring, teaching and managing a new generation of community nurses.
I also heard some stories that were frankly alarming - for example, the service provider that has decided the entire health visitor workforce should become 'agile' workers. The use of the term 'agile' creates a positive vision of being flexible and responsive to need. It means, of course, home-based working in which the health visitors will no longer be based in an office where they can share stories and concerns, and provide support after emotionally draining visits. They will no longer be visible to the community practitioner workforce. The informal day-to-day connections with other health professionals, who share expert knowledge of the community and families they are supporting, will be lost.
Health visitors will only see other practitioners by appointment. There will be no more water-cooler interactions, no informal sharing of experiences, concerns, challenges, innovations and solutions.
Community nursing has a role in meeting the significant financial challenges for the NHS in the months and years ahead. But is this cost saving measure a step too far? Certainly no health visitor I met at the conference could find a way to describe this 'agile' working as a change that would impact positively on the health outcomes of children, families and communities.