The Local Government Association (LGA) has written to the government in a bid to protect health visitor services from cuts in light of an ongoing Public Health England review.
The organisation, which represents councils across England, fears that the review, which could result in the scrapping of the mandatory requirement for local authorities to conduct health visitor family checks, will trigger cuts to services.
It believes that if the mandatory requirement for five checks to be conducted on children up to the age of two-and-a-half is removed, hard-pressed councils could decide to divert funding to other areas that retain their mandatory status.
The chair of the LGA’s children and young people board Richard Watts, and the chair of the community wellbeing board Izzi Seccombe, have written to public health minister Nicola Blackwood requesting that ‘the government does not make a decision about the mandation of health visiting services in isolation’.
They propose instead ‘a collective review of all mandated public health services delivered by local councils next year’, an LGA document states.
‘This is to ensure that councils are not forced to direct other public health budgets to mandated services and that within the context of reduced funding, there is local flexibility to determine how to target available resources,’ the document adds.
The government launched a review in the summer into the future ofhealth visitor family checks after March 2017, when legislation requiring them to be mandatory expires.
Options put forward to ministers include renewing the mandatory requirement, amending the number of visits, or scrapping the requirement altogether.
Parents can currently expect five health checks – the first one before birth and the final one when the child is aged between two and two-and-a-half years. The other three checks are expected in between this period.
They are seen as important ways for families to access information about a range of family health issues such as immunisation and feeding, as well as mental health and parenting support.
Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, has previously warned that without the mandated checks, families may not get the preventative health services they need. This could result in more children having safeguarding needs.