Health visitors should not be redeployed again if there is a second wave of Covid-19, a leader in the sector has warned.
Institute of Health Visiting executive director Dr Cheryll Adams has told Nursing in Practice that the mass redeployment of health visitors to the frontline has left some vulnerable families with safeguarding issues, and without physical and mental health support.
She said the Government should rule out redeploying health visitors again during the coronavirus crisis – raising concerns there could be a ‘second pandemic of need’ in families ‘locked behind closed doors with no access to grandparents, friends or the usual support from the community’.
Dr Adams continued: ‘Even when all health visitors are back in their jobs, as has already begun in some areas, they are going to have to work out very quickly where their greatest need is. They will be picking up the pieces.’
Redeployment of health visitors has varied massively across the country, with more than half of the workforce sent to work elsewhere in the worst-hit areas, she added. This has created a ‘patchwork’ of support for families and put extra pressure on an already depleted workforce.
Dr Adams also highlighted that some employers made a quick, ‘kneejerk’ reaction to the outbreak by telling some staff on a Friday that they would be redeployed on the following Monday, leaving them no opportunity to plan for families they could no longer care for.
She continued: ‘Some redeployment has been totally inappropriate. Very uncomfortable decisions were made about where people were moved from.’
However, Dr Adams praised ‘tremendous innovation’ from health visitors, with depleted teams working to deliver services through phone calls and video consultations.
Health visitor numbers in England have plummeted in recent years, falling from 10,309 in October 2015 to 6,844 in February 2020, the latest figures from NHS Digital show.
Last week, NHS England and NHS Improvement published guidance on the restoration of community health services for children and young people.
This includes the reinstatement of the health visitor 6-8 week review after it was halted and prioritisation of home visits where there is a child safeguarding concern.
Nursing groups warned earlier this year that the redeployment of health visitors could lead to a rise in domestic violence and that some had been redeployed to ‘inappropriate’ roles.