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Lead nurses cast concerns over health visiting service

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Health visitors can reduce childhood obesity and Health visitors can reduce childhood obesity and mental health issues

Cuts to local authority budgets could reverse the progress made by the health visitor implementation plan, a group of leading health figures said in an open letter to The Times.

The letter, signed by Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the QNI, and Cheryll Adams, chief executive of the Institute of Health Visiting, suggested that any money saved by the cuts to local authority budgets would be lost to rises in obesity and mental health conditions.

‘At a time of escalating obesity, rising mental health problems and growing health inequalities, these services have never been so vital,’ said Ms Davies. ‘Our health visitors do a unique and complex job working to ensure all children, in all areas, get the best possible start in life – something every child is entitled to.’

The letter cited recent workforce figures showing that the number of health visitors in England has been falling since the start of 2016, with a significant drop of 433 posts between March and April. According to the RCN, anecdotal evidence suggests that this drop is just the start of a significant reduction in the number of health visitors.

‘The previous government’s boost to health visiting services was a vital step forward, yet these cuts risk any gains that were made and are a waste of that financial investment,’ added Ms Davies. ‘Cutting health visiting roles would prove more expensive in the long-term by putting added pressure on already overstretched GPs, hospitals and other health services.’

Research from Unite suggested that the lack of resources are directly impacting on health visitors. In a survey carried out by the union, 58% of health visitors reported increases in individual workloads compared with the previous year, while 44% reported a slump in workplace morale, with 81% attributing that drop to increased workplace stress.

‘The picture that clearly emerges is that health visiting is a profession under a great deal of stress as health visitors juggle increasing demands on their vital services with decreasing resources and contracting pay packets,’ said Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter. ‘The situation is further eroded by savage cuts to local government which now has the responsibility for health visiting budgets.’

Health visiting services are not the only paediatric service under pressure. A report from the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Children's Health found that more than half of paediatric units are not meeting recommended staffing standards, and 89% of clinical directors are concerned about how service will cope in the next six months.

'The paediatric workforce is at breaking point and children’s healthcare is increasingly being compromised,' said Dr Simon Clark, workforce officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. 'The NHS was designed in the 1940s when paediatric care took second place to the care of adults. Children are not small adults and paediatricians are proud to have helped focus attention on their needs. The RCPCH wants to see children’s healthcare move forward, not stand still, and now we fear things are starting to move backwards.

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I think it is shocking the graded salary of Health Visitors as a Band 6 given the amount of responsibility in terms of protecting children, assessing vulnerability whilst ensuring all children have the best possible start in life and large caseload sizes.
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