The Government response to a petition calling for more funding to local authorities for health visiting in England is ‘disappointing’ and ‘dismissive’, health visitors have said.
The public health grant for local authorities in England – which funds children’s public health services – will increase by 1% in cash terms to £3.324bn in 2021/22, up from £3.279bn in 2020/21, the Government argued in its response on Friday to the petition.
But the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) said the response was ‘dismissive’ and argued the public health grant has actually been cut in real terms. It cited analysis from the Health Foundation charity in March this year showing it fell by 24% from £4.2bn in 2015/16.
The iHV also accused the Government of failing to take the concerns raised by the petition ‘seriously’ and accused the Government of ‘whitewashing’ statistics.
For example, the Government response pointed to February 2021 data showing a high proportion of infants in 2019/20 received the five mandated health visiting contacts – 97.5% at 10-14 days after birth, 85.1% at 6-8 weeks old, 77% at 9-12 months old and 78.6% at 2-2.5 years old.
But the iHV highlighted its December 2020 survey showing only 17% of one-year reviews and 10% of two-year reviews were completed by a qualified health visitor that year, with most carried out by other team members. Many areas were now carrying out these assessments virtually, it added.
It concluded: ‘[This] ticks the box but misses the point: Needs change over time – it is therefore imperative that all four mandated reviews that children receive between birth and 2.5 years are completed face-to-face. We need to get this right, it is such a minimal ask.’
The Government response also said it does ‘not advocate a specific health visitor caseload’, which ‘should be led by health needs of a population’. This is despite 80% of health visitors managing caseloads above the safe limit of 250 children recommended by the iVH, the umbrella body pointed out.
The iHV urged the Government to restore the public health grant to 2015/16 levels by investing an extra £1bn a year and hire an extra 5,000 health visitors in England.
Lesley Tarling, one of the Hampshire health visitors who set up the petition, added: ‘It is disappointing that the core question in our petition remains unanswered’. She warned more funding is needed to avoid ‘irreparably’ affecting ‘health provision to the young’.
Ms Tarling launched the petition following a Hampshire County Council consultation on plans to reduce its workforce by 12.5% to help it slash its £52m public health budget by £6.8m for 2021/22.
Hampshire health visitors and school nurses spoke to Nursing in Practice this month about low staff morale and their fears for child safety if proposals to axe around 47 posts go ahead.
Last month, Stoke-on-Trent councillors voted against using part of a council underspend last year to prevent around 12 health visitors and nurses losing their jobs.
The iHV has raised concerns about a ‘postcode lottery’ of health visiting services after its survey showed many families feel ‘let down’ by the service.