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Health visitors fear "another Victoria Climbie"

A quarter of health visitors in England fear that "another Victoria Climbie" could happen in their NHS trust, new research from Unite, the country's largest trade union, revealed today.

The survey by Unite/Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association of  829 health visitors in England revealed 25% thought the chances of a repetition of the fate of the eight-year old girl tortured to death by her great-aunt and her boyfriend happening in their NHS trust was "very likely" or "somewhat likely".

Unite has been strongly campaigning against the swingeing cuts in the health visitor workforce in recent years, which according to the NHS's own workplace statistics, has seen "a health visitor job being lost every 27 hours".

Unite's National Officer for Health, Karen Reay said: "These findings are a terrible indictment, which demonstrate that the health visiting profession is on the ropes. Families and communities will suffer as a result, which is completely the reverse of what the government's 'family-friendly' policies are intended to promote.

"We are calling for ministers to instruct NHS trusts to implement a massive investment programme in health visiting so that government policies can come to fruition, and to restore the cuts in  training budgets to guarantee the next generation of health visitors."

Other findings include:

  • More than 40% of health visitors are responsible for more than 500 children and nearly 20% for more than 1,000.
  • Almost 70% of health visitors can't currently meet the needs of the most vulnerable children.

The Unite/CPHVA report comes out on the same day as one from Netmums, the UK's largest parenting website, which showed that 60% of the 6,000 mothers in its survey said they didn't see their health visitor enough during the first year of their child's life.

Unite/CPHVA's Lead Professional Officer for Strategy and Practice Development, Cheryll Adams said: "It is no coincidence that two separate organisations have come to the same conclusion - that health visitors are crucially important to the future well-being of the UK's children. We call on the government to act now on these two reports."


What is the health visiting service like in your area? Have there been cuts? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"Where is the evidence base? D Smith suggests that there are "lots of health visitors, but they seem to do very little". This person demonstrates how professionals can be demoralised. Gaps in knowledge about what the health visiting services actually provides regarding prevention, promotion and education
over a wide remit. What is really happening behind closed doors all over the country has an impact on individuals in vulnerable situations. The ethos of an effective health visiting service is one where highly sensitive work, ie, dealing with child protection, domestic violence, family break up, and mental health and wellbeing issues impinge on many families. These types of situations require professional, skilled knowledgeable staff such as health visitors negotiating with a multitude of different agencies daily providing high-quality services in the community. A contrast to doing very little." - Ann McDonald, Glasgow

"That is clearly untrue. There are hardly any HVs on the scene. There are so many cases to see with so little time to do it all in. Domestic violence cases, child protection coming out of the woodwork. It is demoralising. Everyone appears to have a piece of the job, where do we fit in? What is the NMC doing and why is it that children's centre staff are taking on all the roles of the HV. I am afraid they want HVs on the cheap." - Pamela Robinson, West Midlands

"I'm not a health visitor but a trained nurse midwife with a degree in nursing studies. I think the problem for health visitors is that they don't have a specific job description that focuses on what they do. Nursery nurses do most of their jobs, which has already reduced the recognition that the public and government would have given them. Antenatal and postnatal health education and advice to mothers is given by the midviwes during pregnancy. If they take their role more seriously and professionally, the public in general might appreciate their work. They might also consider renewing and/or reviewing their job description." - Maryam Omitogun, London

"I work in the West Midlands where under the banner of skill mix it may not be long before there are no health visitors taking on the roles that health visitors were trained for, eg, primaries. Due to financial cuts fewer health visitors are trained nationally and history suggests that things must exceed breaking point before things change." - Name and address supplied

"I am a health visitor and I am leaving the service to work in a totally different field precisely for the reasons stated in the article. I feel that our practice is becoming more and more unsafe. We are unable to establish relationships with families or conduct adequate assessments due to constraints on time, and reductions in the visiting schedules. With limited information we have to make snap judgments on the possible vulnerability of children and whether the family justify any further input. I feel I am scratching the surface, I can't provide a decent service. We are constantly covering for sick, absent and retired colleagues. Management do not consider our roles important enough to provide cover and any solutions offered by us are given lip service only. I could go on for pages and pages but don't have the time or the energy to continue." - Name and address supplied

"In Scotland we are now piloting the community health nurse
model. This is not a good generic role and we have all raised our concerns with management, but nobody is listening to us - we have been to all our unions, MSPs and GPs. We need help, please, before we all leave. We do not oppose change but welcome positive change for the better. It's like the emperor's new clothes, but nobody can see it or else is too frightened to speak out. I've been a nurse for 10 years, a midwife for 10 years and a health visitor for 10 years. I'm always up for change but there is no evidence that this will improve our service to children and families." - Audrey Galloway, Dunoon Argyll Highland NHS

"Lots of health visitors but they seem to do very little. A lack of interest and unrest." - D Smith, Woolwich