Latest NHS workforce statistics show that every 27 hours a full-time health visitor job is being lost, despite government exhortations that more health visitors should be employed by primary care trusts (PCTs).
The latest NHS workforce statistics reveal that 320 whole-time equivalent jobs (WTE) were lost in the year to September 2007 – making a 14-year low for health visitors employed in the NHS.
Unite/CPHVA said that the 3.4% annual decline "puts in grave jeopardy" the government's ability to deliver its "family-friendly" agenda as the necessary health professionals, and the universal service they provide, "just won't be there".
The NHS headcount reveals there were 9,056 WTE health visitors in September 2007 compared with 9,376 in September 2006 – a loss of 320 WTE jobs. In 1988, there were 10,680 FTE jobs, and as recently as 2004, that figure was 10,137 – a more than 10% drop in the last three years.
Last September, Health Secretary, Alan Johnson told the Labour Party conference: "And we need more specialist nurses and health visitors to tackle public health issues in deprived communities."
Unite Head of Health, Kevin Coyne said: "The government's plans to reinforce its 'family-friendly' agenda are being put in grave jeopardy as the health visitors and other specialist community nursing staff, such as school nurses, just won't be there to turn these policies from words into action.
"Experienced health visitors are the first point of contact with families and are trained to assess needs, detecting child development problems, child protection issues and signs of postnatal depression which affects 100,000 women-a-year. Already our some of our members are reporting that they no longer know many of the families on their caseloads, so how can they pick up 'need' early-on?
"We calculate that if most health visitors do around 30 visits a week, this means that over the last year there were 400,000 fewer visits by health visitors. This is particularly regrettable considering the good evidence base for the value of home visits."
Unite/CPHVA has consistently called for successive health secretaries to issue a directive to PCTs and strategic health authorities (SHAs) to reverse the decline in health visitors' numbers and the 40% reduction in training places in England.
According to the statistics, there was a 9.6% increase in the number of WTE school nurses from 815 to 893 – but Unite/CPHVA said this was way short of the government's policy to have a specialist school nurse in each secondary school and its cluster of primary schools in two years time (2010).
Have health visiting services been reduced in your area?
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"Allowed to 'die on the vine' with no replacements over the past year, now we are so understaffed we can't deliver a service. They will not close case loads and have decided to advertise! Since Jan - only one applicant. We were not surprised, it was not rocket science!" - Ann Evans, West Sussex
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