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Health visitor cuts put Stoke families ‘at risk’



Thousands of families in Stoke-on-Trent could be impacted by council plans to cut £1m from the children and young people services’ budget, and reduce health visitor numbers, Unite has warned.

The proposals would see health visitor numbers reduced by seven whole-time equivalents (WTEs), each at least 37 hours a week, from 42.68 WTE health visitors to 35.09. It would also scrap 3.86 WTE community staff roles and a 0.8 specialist health visitor for young people.

Union Unite estimates that each health visitor has responsibility for about 400 families – so if seven health visitor jobs were lost, up to 3,000 families could be adversely affected. Services, such as those for maternal and child mental health, child protection and domestic abuse, are also at risk.

It comes as part of a new seven-year contract between the council and Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT), which provides services for the council including school nursing and health visiting. The £3.9m agreement is a reduction of about £1m from the last deal, said Unite.

Unite has submitted counter proposals to MPFT and will be holding discussions with them.

Its regional officer Frank Keogh said the ‘cruel cuts’ to nursing in Stoke would see these ‘vital services stretched to breaking point’ and ‘leave the community vulnerable’. He added: ‘We firmly believe that following the devastating impact of the pandemic that families and children deserve better than this.’

He also pointed out that Stoke-on-Trent has ‘some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK’, with a local government report stating in August 2020 that 23.6% of children in the area live in poverty compared to a national average of 16.8%.

Mr Keogh concluded: ‘These health visitors and school nurses are dealing with young children at the early developmental stages. Who will identify potential issues at this stage, if the numbers of staff are reduced?’

A joint statement from the Stoke-on-Trent city council and MPFT said both organisations had been working ‘to ensure that services can continue to meet the needs of families right across the city both now and for the future’.

It continued: ‘This work has continued throughout the pandemic, and it is a great credit to health teams who have been able to support families throughout such a difficult 18 months. There won’t be any change in this commitment to ensure that families who need our support will get it.

‘This approach to the future delivery of Health Visiting and School Nursing services has been planned for some time and we continue to work together to design services that provide continuity in service to support the future needs of children, young people and families in the city.’

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.