Cuts to public health budgets have left health visitors overstretched and unable to provide high quality care in some areas, the Institute for Health Visiting’s (iHV) annual survey has found.
Figures indicate that around one in five health visitors were lost between 2015 and 2019 – the full-time equivalent of 18% of the workforce. According to the iHV, this is due to public health budget cuts and the failure to protect health visitors’ preventative role by many cash-strapped local authorities, after health visiting commissioning moved from the NHS to local authorities in 2015.
‘It is absolutely unacceptable that many families are struggling through the significant demands of early childhood without the vital support that they need and are entitled to through the government’s flagship Healthy Child Programme,’ said Dr Cheryll Adams, Executive Director of iHV.
‘Indeed, the government’s pledge to give every child the best start in life has been left in tatters after year-on-year cuts to the public health grant, which have dismantled the health visiting services designed to support them in many areas.’
The survey also found that only 21% of health visitors rated the quality of care that they can now offer families as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, while 48% of health visitors said they feel so stretched that they fear a tragedy where they work. This is up from 23% in 2015, which even then suggested a profession under pressure. Additionally, 29% of health visitors are now responsible for between 500 and more than 1000 children, and, while in 2015, 65% of health visitors were able to offer continuity of carer to all, or most, families, by 2019 that number had fallen to just 35%.
‘Our survey indicates that health visitors have seen rising demand for support from families, almost certainly related to austerity. Meanwhile, they themselves have battled with ever increasing caseloads, due to the fall in health visitor numbers. It was particularly disturbing that one in four health visitors told us that they are seeking professional help from a GP or elsewhere, due to the demands of their job,’ added Dr Adams.
‘Health visitors worry about children being at risk and there is no doubt that their stress levels directly related to them feeling unable to deliver the quality of service that they know they can – and should be able to – offer, as well as the fear of children’s needs being missed. Our children are our future. They deserve much better than this.’