Hampshire County Council could break the conditions of receiving the public health grant if proposed health visiting and school nursing cuts go ahead.
This was the warning made by Institute of Health Visiting executive director Alison Morton and School and Public Health Nurses Association chief executive Sharon White, in two separate letters to Michael Brodie, Public Health England’s (PHE) interim chief executive, and Hampshire council leader Keith Mans.
They said using the ringfenced public health grant to ‘offset part of the county council’s budget deficit’ would break the conditions of the grant and be a ‘misuse of the funding’. The changes could mean the council will fail in its statutory duty to safeguard children, they added.
Cuts could also ‘undermine’ the Healthy Child Programme, a Government initiative to improve the health and wellbeing of children. They wrote: ‘How will services know who is vulnerable if they are not seeing families? Without the universal safety net that health visiting provides, vulnerable babies and young children will be missed, or identified too late…
‘Without the universal safety net that health visiting provides, vulnerable babies and young children will be missed, or identified too late.’
Ms Morton and Ms White explained the plans would ‘strip out the mechanism to identify vulnerable children’ and are ‘contrary to the mandation and expectation of the Healthy Child Programme’.
Hampshire’s case was not a ‘local issue’, they concluded, adding it ‘represents the predicted consequences of years of cuts to the public health grant’.
The proposals, covered last month by Nursing in Practice, would see around 47 health visitor and school nursing posts axed to help the council slash its £52m public health budget by £6.8m. Children aged 12 and over would also only receive a digital school nursing service and no face-to-face offer.
The council’s consultation on the proposals, launched last month, said cutting the health visitor and school nursing posts was necessary following ‘ongoing reductions in local government funding’.
The consultation will close on 9 August.
Wendy Nicholson, PHE’s deputy chief nurse, said: ‘PHE are committed to ensuring that all families get the support they deserve to give all children the best start in life.
‘We’ve published guidance for local councils to support their decision making on early years services based on the needs of their population. We will continue to work with councils, health visitors and school and public health nurses on our shared goal of keeping the nation’s children healthy.’
Councillor Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council’s executive member for adult services and public health, said: ‘Firstly, it is important to understand that no decisions have been made whatsoever with regards to these services. In the area of public health, we have identified some possible options for savings, and we welcome the views of residents, health professionals and other stakeholders, contributed through our consultation.
‘These, together with a number of other factors, will be taken into full consideration later in the year when we consider which, if any, of the proposals could be taken forward. It would be inappropriate for me to comment any further at this stage in the process.’
Nursing in Practice has also contacted Mr Mans for comment.
Safeguarding concerns are also rising nationally after 285 children were killed or seriously harmed in the first six months of lockdown in England, Ofsted data shows. Nursing in Practice explored this and other impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on children in an in-depth article earlier this year.