At least one health visitor job is being lost every day - despite Patricia Hewitt's claim that the NHS has never had it so good.
The latest NHS workforce statistics just released show a 4.5% drop in the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) health visitors in the year to September 2006 - a 13-year low.
Amicus/the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA) calculates that this means more than half a million visits by health visitors to families, many of them in the "vulnerable" category, are not happening because of savage cuts by debt-ridden primary care trusts (PCTs).
The NHS headcount reveals there were 9,376 FTE health visitors in September 2006 compared with 9,809 in September 2005- a loss of 433 FTE jobs, or more than one day in a year. In 1988, there were 10,680 FTE jobs. Recent figures from the Family and Parenting Institute (FPI) put the loss of posts since September 2005 as being at least 800.
Amicus Health Sector Lead Professional Officer, Dr Cheryll Adams believes that this is an appalling situation, and completely at odds with the government's public health and family agendas. "Ministers will argue that because of 'skill mix' - less qualified professionals doing health visitor jobs - that there are more staff in community care.
"But 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.
"We calculate that if most health visitors do around 30 visits a week, this means that over the last year there were 500,000 fewer visits by health visitors. This is particularly regrettable considering the good evidence base for the value of home visits."
Amicus/CPHVA has consistently called for the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt to issue a directive to PCTs and strategic health authorities (SHAs) to reverse the decline in health visitors' numbers and training places.
The official figures follow the hard-hitting report last month from the FPI which dubbed health visitors "an endangered species". Earlier this year, Amicus/CPHVA used the Freedom of Information Act to disclose a 40% drop in health visiting training places in England this year.
The shock figures come as the Department of Health (DH) is reviewing the future of health visiting. Cheryll Adams warns: "Even if we agreed with the department's analysis - which we don't - the loss of some half a million visits a year by health visitors would severely sabotage even this potential restricted service."
Ironically, in April 2006, Ms Hewitt claimed that the NHS was enjoying "its best year ever".
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