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Ministers told to stop acting like Pontius Pilate

The government's public health goals are being "seriously sabotaged" by the 40% cut in the number of health visitors being trained in England this year.

New figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, by the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA), revealed that more than three-quarters of the Higher Education Establishments (HEIs) surveyed reported cuts in training places.

The numbers of health visitors trained in 2005-6 was 554, but in 2006-7 this had dropped to 329 - a 40% cut. This was despite 798 potential students applying for places at the HEIs for 2006-7. The figures for school nurse training are also bleak.

The reasons for this decline are strategic health authorities stopping commissioning the Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (SCPHN) courses and primary care trusts (PCTs) pleading poverty.

Karen Reay, CPHVA director, said: "These dramatic cuts in health visitor training are seriously sabotaging the government's public health programme which we have strongly supported.

"Ministers can no longer act like Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of the crisis by saying that: 'It is up to the PCTs how they spend their money.' Ministers need to ensure that funds for health visitor and school nurse training are 'ring fenced' - it is that simple."

"Health visitors are in the frontline when it comes to providing such services as diagnosing postnatal depression which affects 100,000 women a year; advising on immunisations, and unfortunately, often being the first health professional to detect  child abuse.

"They are doing exactly what the government wants - and more. There are now more applicants for health visitor training than places currently available - so much for strategic planning."