This site is intended for health professionals only

Health visiting service in "melt down"

A slump in the number of health visitors working for Houslow Primary Care Trust (PCT) is putting children's health at risk, says health trade union, Unite.

In the last six years, Hounslow's birth rate has soared but the number of health visitors has more than halved.

Health visitors in Hounslow can no longer offer a home visit for every new born baby.

Unite say children and families in Hounslow are getting a "postcode lottery", compared to their neighbouring primary care trusts where area resources are not so tightly stretched.

Health visitors in the area are worried that staff shortages will result in missed opportunities to identify children's problems early and refer them on for treatment.

Unite and the Community Practitioners Health Visitors' Association suggest that the PCT should "recalibrate its £266m a year budget as a matter of urgency" to tackle the crisis in community nursing services.

Lead Professional Officer for the Unite Health Sector Cheryll Adams said: "While we appreciate that the PCT's managers are grappling with massive problems in a divers and disadvantaged borough with stretched resources, the health visiting service is approaching 'melt down'.

"This situation can't continue, as there is increased risk to the health of children if there are not enough health visitors to visit homes and staff clinics on a regular basis."

Community Practitioners Health Visitors' Association

Do you think Hounslow is reflective of the rest of the UK? Is there a national health visiting "melt down"? (Please supply your comment, name and location in the feedback box below.  Your details will not be published if you so request.)

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"The experiences in Hounslow do not reflect the area where I work - where there is a positive attitude towards the work of the health visiting service and a drive towards integrated child and family-centred service delivery. Health visitors need to seize the opportunities currently available to demonstarte that their skills are needed to support children and families - particularly to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged" - Name and address supplied

"I am convinced that this is a government, unspoken plan to reduce the 'expensive' HV by cherry picking the many roles we undertake to cheaper options. I am in favour of children's centres, but most of these are taking on traditional HV roles, rather than offering further identified servies. I have worked sucessfully with many skill mixes - but what is happening now is the total disintegration (money driven) of an effective system. They have stopped HV training in Hertfordshire, again no one has explained why. We are all left guessing and worrying about the service and our future" - Name and address supplied

"I am a nurse with 24 years experience and qualified as a public health nurse in September 2006. I see the huge benefit of HVs' public health role and support for vulnerable families. However, personally, I feel cheated as HVs will no longer exist in NHS Highland as the new role of community health nurse comes into existence. A few years ago public health nursing was a new discipline, now here comes another one. How come there is always plenty of money for such changes? - Name and address supplied

"Lambeth HVs are certainly not valued by management either.  I'm taking early retirement, I'm BURNT OUT, I can't give the care that clients deserve - Name and address supplied

"Yes, it is a nationwide problem. In Scunthorpe N. Lincs we are trying to deliver a service doing essential calls only. What public health work we could do if we had the health visitors" - Name and address supplied

"As a health visitor with 30 years experience I am very concerned to see the systematic attack on the health visiting profession. I am currently working in a remote area of Scotland where over the past few years we have seen the number of HVs reduce (via 'natural' wastage - retirements, etc) and now we are to disappear in Scotland if the Chief Nurse and Review of Nursing in the Community has its way. Several universities this year will see the final courses in health visiting presented. We have no idea how or where present health visitors will fit into this new system. I am only pleased that by the time it comes on, I will be able to take early retirement" - Name and address supplied

"Health visiting is clearly a soft option when it comes to saving money throughout the whole of the UK. My sympathies lie with the remaining overworked and undoubtably stressed Hounslow HVs and their equally vulnerable families" - Name and address supplied

"Yes, definitely. It seems a shame when evidence-based practice is being ignored and when new, expensive, unproven roles such as case managers/community matrons are being developed. The government is pushing these roles through as a topdown initiative despite plenty of evidence to the contrary that these roles dont work" - Name and address supplied

"I am concerned at the hurried and rapid changes that have been enforced upon us, staff morale has never been at such an all time low. I'ts time for action we should fight for our careers, support those in Hounslow, and let those know in Government we are here to stay and our worth every penny!" - Louise Gale, Stockport