The extension of the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) initiative will enable a greater number of young, disadvantaged mothers to benefit from support in bringing up their babies, but could divert health visitors away from core services, nurses' leaders have warned.
Announcing the roll-out of the scheme, health minister Dr Dan Poulter (pictured) pledged 16,000 of the most disadvantaged new parents in England would be offered tailored help and support from a specialist nurse by 2015.
But CPHVA health visiting lead Dave Munday warned the FNP initiative was recruiting health visitors from 'high-need' areas, meaning some families could be left without access to standard health visiting.
Cheryll Adams, founding director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'A big challenge with the FNP is that it tends to attract experienced health visitors.
'It might have been more helpful to put an increase in the FNP on hold until health visitor numbers had come up and new recruits had 'bedded' in; or created a situation where FNP nurses could offer mentoring to preceptors then, when things ease, take on more families.
'There is a need to put a plan in place for 2015 and beyond [to recruit health visitors] now and consider more relevant routes for those wanting to be health visitors and not have a nursing or midwifery career first.'
The news came as the DH published its Health Visitor Implementation Plan Quarterly Progress Report, setting out progress on key areas of the plan, which includes a target of recruiting an additional 4,200 health visitors by 2015.
Figures from October to December 2012 revealed recruitment had fallen short of the quarter's target by 157 full-time equivalent health visitors.