Hampshire County Council is considering axing 47 – over a tenth – of its health visitor and school nursing posts to help slash its 2021/22 £52m public health budget by £6.8m.
The cuts would mean public health nurses would offer fewer face-to-face appointments, a consultation on the proposals released last week explained.
Under the plans, children aged 12 or over would also only be provided with a digital school nursing service, with the aim of cutting £2.09m from the £20.4m public health nursing budget for 0-19 year olds.
Services scrapped for this age group would include safeguarding support, health representation at child protection conferences and support for specific needs such as emotional wellbeing, mental health or healthy weight.
The local authority’s consultation said cutting the health visitor and school nursing posts – equivalent to 12.5% of the workforce – was necessary following ‘ongoing reductions in local government funding’.
It said: ‘Where support is required from a public health nurse, there could be longer waits for appointments as the reduced number of staff posts would impact on the numbers that could be seen face-to-face. Video, telephone and online options could be offered as an alternative.’
This could ‘result in the thresholds for accessing each level of service being increased’, meaning ‘families that would have been eligible for higher levels of service [before the proposed changes] would only be offered lower levels,’ the council warned.
Also under the plans, a substance misuse hub and several small sexual health clinics are earmarked to for closure. Other cuts include a reduction in face-to-face stop smoking services in community venues and no more free sexual health training for professionals.
The council stressed public health services had already been ‘focused on reducing costs’ because of public health grant reductions between 2015 and 2021 – but they now need to find ways to save the additional cash because of ‘further pressures’.
Unite lead officer for health in the South East Jesika Parmar said the ‘cuts can be traced back to central government and the unrelenting squeeze on public health funding that the Tory government has implemented since 2010’.
She added: ‘Unfortunately, the Hampshire proposals are just the tip of the iceberg of what has happened to public health services in England after they became the responsibility of local authorities in April 2013.’
Councillor Liz Fairhurst, executive lead member for adult Services and public health said at Hampshire County Council, said ‘opportunities to further reduce costs are getting harder to find, and extra pressures mean that an additional £6.8 m must now be found’.
She added: ‘To meet the County Council’s savings obligations, the service is proposing to re-focus its budget to support the public health work being undertaken more widely across the local authority, as well as continuing to improve the health of the population and deliver key mandated services.’
The council’s consultation will close on 9 August.
This comes amid broader concerns about low health visitor numbers, with a report from April finding that work must be done to ensure health visitors stay in the workforce.