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More GPs "in health visitor role"

A new poll has revealed that GPs are being contacted by an increasing number of new mothers seeking care that is usually provided by health visitors.

Just over seven out of 10 GPs questioned (71%) said they were seeing more new mothers needing help with problems like postnatal depression, sleeping and feeding problems.

The survey of 474 family doctors for Independent Nurse found that some GPs had been called on to weigh babies or had been asked to provide emotional support.

Howard Catton, Head of Policy at the Royal College of Nursing, said the findings reflected the fall in health visitor numbers.

"When primary care organisations are looking for cuts, they look at the more expensive nurses very early on," he said. "There isn't the recognition of the value that they have in terms of prevention."

The union Unite cited NHS workforce statistics, which it said showed that a full-time health visitor job was being lost every 27 hours.

The number of health visitors employed in the NHS has fallen to a 14-year low after a total of 320 whole-time equivalent jobs were lost in the year to September 2007.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said figures were being worked out on how many health visitors would be needed in the future.

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Royal College of Nursing