PHE have written to nursing directors advising that health visitors, school nurses and other professionals supporting children and families should not be redeployed again.
The mass redeployment of health visitors and school nurses during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic left vulnerable families without support, as Nursing in Practice reported earlier this year.
Directors of nursing have now been told these staff provide ‘frontline’ work and should not be redirected to support other services. This was outlined in a letter last week from PHE chief nurse Professor Viv Bennett, England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May and the Local Government Association’s Ian Hudspeth.
The joint letter said: ‘We advise that professionals supporting children and families, such as health visitors, school nurses, designated safeguarding officers and nurses supporting children with special educational needs should not be redeployed to other services.’
It described the ‘indirect impact’ of Covid-19 on pregnant women, children, young people and families, noting ‘increases in safeguarding concerns, domestic abuse, child and maternal mental health problems as well as lost learning time for all children’.
‘Sustaining support for families’ needs to be a priority if short- and long-term harms are to be prevented, identified and mitigated,’ it added.
If nurses have skills ‘required locally (for example, training in ITU)’ then ‘individual discussions’ should take place, but any redeployment should be ‘for the shortest possible time’, it advised.
Executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) Dr Cheryll Adams said the organisation was ‘relieved’ that chief nurses agreed with its view that health visitors should not be redeployed again.
She continued: ‘This profession has its own frontline, and infants and their families have never needed them more than they do at the moment.’
A University College of London survey this summer found that 60% of health visitor teams in England experienced redeployment between 19 March and 3 June.
In April, an iHV review found a ‘wide variation’ in the number of health visitors redeployed nationally and that in some areas between 50% and 70% were sent to work elsewhere.
Health visitor numbers in England have plummeted in recent years, falling from 10,309 in October 2015 to 6,652 in June 2020, the latest figures from NHS Digital show.