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Union raises concerns over the future of health visiting

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Health visiting faces threats in the future Cuts and education system changes could threaten the health visting service

The cuts to public health budgets and the removal of the NHS bursary could present a risk to the health visiting workforce states a new briefing released by Unite.

The briefing highlights that despite the rise in health visitor numbers in the last five years, changes to commissioning and education funding could hit the profession in the future.

Unite professional officer Dave Munday said: 'Despite the rhetoric from government ministers, health visitors are facing a toxic mix of deep cuts to local government funding and uncertainty around their training which ultimately threatens the future of the profession.'

The union highlighted the impact of the Health Visitor Implementation plan which ended in March 2015. Even though the plan missed the target by 271 health visitors, the increase in health visitor numbers from May 2010 to March 2015 was 49%.The briefing revealed that the target is unlikely to be met in the future.

However, the briefing paper stated that cuts to public health, the cuts to 'early intervention' funding and the local authorities putting services out to tender could increase the workload of existing and health visitors or see a reduction in health visitors altogether.

Research from union found that even though the Implementation plan increased numbers only 43% of health visitors thought there was an increase in health visitors in their organisation.

The briefing also highlighted that Unite members are concerned that the government plan to remove bursaries for undergraduate health training will have negative implications on post registration education.

'This combination along with increasing workloads will put the government’s target to increase health visitor numbers out of reach and lead to poorer services for families and their children. With the health of our children at stake, Unite is encouraging the profession and communities to act as an early warning system so that we can campaign to defend our health visiting service and give our children the best start in life,' added Mr Munday.

The commissioning of health visiting was transferred over to local authorities in October 2015, following the move of school nursing commissioning in 2013.

Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'This helpful, well-rounded briefing raises concerns widely shared by the profession and those focused on improving the life chances of children though early intervention in the first 1001 critical days of life. It is important that health visitors help commissioners to understand their preventative role and public health consequences of any cuts to this service, as the costs will be felt not only locally but by society as a whole. We know the consequences of missed perinatal depression which costs the country in excess of £8.1 billion a year. The iHV is actively working with health visitors and commissioners to manage this very difficult situation. We also have resources to support commissioners on our website.'

The union is urging regional officers, representatives or members to contact them if they become aware of any funding cuts.

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Our trust is cutting Health Visitor numbers drastically. What a waste of money was spent to train so many and now in this short space of time the workforce are being cut. I can not see how the service will be upheld. Bottom line children will suffer.
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Commissioning school nursing & health visiting by local authorities has, in my view, been a very big mistake. One of the negative consequences has been the gradual undermining of health visitors & school nurses' clinical expertise. A tick-box KPI culture prevails and managers run around like headless chickens chastising staff for not meeting targets. It is, lest we forget, children's health that is the focus of our work. Charities like the NSPCC, whose "empire" is constantly expanding does attract good people though they fail to look after them and they soon leave, they lack clinical experience and several of their programmes are ineffective. Yet local authority commissioners are tempted by the price they charge. It does not have to be this way. Children will suffer from neglect, not this time by parents, but by run-ragged professionals whose huge caseloads make it impossible to give the necessary attention when & where it is so often needed needed.
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