Provisional figures from the end of the Health Visitor Implementation Plan, which aimed to have 4200 extra health visitors in post by 2015, was missed by 215.
Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, revealed that the number of health visitors increased by 3985 since May 2010. The government proposed a target of 4200 extra full time equivalent health visitors in post by 2015.
The Health Visitor Implementation Plan was put in place in May 2010 to tackle the decreasing number of health visitors at the time. As well as increasing the number of health visitors, the plan also aimed to reinvigorate the health visiting workforce by creating a more robust service and increasing partnerships with GPs, maternity, children's centres and other early years services.
Dr Cheryll Adams, director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'What a fantastic achievement this is, the beneficiaries will be children, families and communities up and down the country.'
Dame Sarah Cowley, Emeritus professor, King's College London, and Trustee of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'The government missed their target of 4200 health visitors but only just – still an increase of 49.2% overall. It is a great achievement but disappointing that big cities – London (especially), Birmingham, Manchester – are where there are still big gaps.'
London only managed a 37% increase in health visitor numbers, although it needed an increase of 50%. Some parts of the South needed more than the 63% increase it had.
The HSCIC figures suggested that nearly 7000 students needed to be trained to have 4000 health visitors in post, as retention is still an issue in health visiting.
A Department of Health spokesperson, said: 'The expansion of the health visitor workforce has been one of the most rapid and successful in NHS history. Our investment has reversed the historic decline in the number of health visitors and we have almost 4000 more than in 2010 — with an additional 900 in training. We have revitalised the service from one that varies around the country to one where every parent has access to a consistent service. We remain fully committed to the health visitor programme.'The plan was championed by Dr Dan Poulter, the previous health minister for nurses, who was replaced by Ben Gummer following the election.