In our interview with Professor Viv Bennett the DH's director of nursing describes the government's programme to boost the number of health visitors as 'incredibly unusual', because it attached a specific target for how many health visitors it set out to recruit.
Unlike the recent school nursing vision, or the forthcoming community nursing strategy, ministers were very clear that they wanted to increase health visitor numbers by 4200 by 2014. As a result, around 1700 are expected to qualify this year.
There are now only 8000 district nurses in the UK, compared to almost 13,000 a decade ago, which begs the question: why not consider a target for district nurse recruitment?
Without set targets, monitoring the effectiveness of policies, strategies, and visions becomes a very subjective process. The school nursing vision, for example, was widely welcomed by the profession for stressing the importance of this vital branch of nursing. But, arguably, it did little to incentivise local authorities (which will commission school nursing from next year) to increase their number.
As RCN chair of council Kath McCourt writes her organisation hears stories of inadequate staffing levels from its members 'week after week'. She is backed up by DH figures, which last month showed there has been a 4800 reduction in the number of nurses since 2010.
The health visitor strategy helped stem the declining number of health visitors. It will require monitoring in the long term, to account for a workforce that will lose many experienced nurses to retirement in the coming years, but its success in the short term should be applauded.
Ministerial will to boost numbers was no doubt strengthened by the recruitment target. Let us hope that future nursing strategies acknowledge the need for adequate staffing levels, and find effective ways to encourage them.