Training for health visitors in England needs to grow quicker than the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan proposes, the Institute for Health Visiting (iHV) has told.
Despite welcoming commitments to expand training for health visitors starting from 2025, Alison Morton, chief executive of the iHV, warned that while there were ‘lots of positives’, the plan was ‘too little, too slow’.
In an exclusive interview, Ms Morton told Nursing in Practice: ‘You judge people’s intent by how much time and money they invest in something that’s important to them, and if you judge this plan and the associated investment by that, then I don’t think [the government] are taking it seriously enough.’
The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published in June, assesses that the education and training routes into health visiting will need to expand by between 32% and 74% by 2030/32 and commits to expanding health visitor training places by 17% by 2028/29.
The plan aims to start the expansion of places in 2025 when training places are aimed to increase from 768 to 825.
However, Ms Morton said that this expansion is ‘glacial’ in its slowness and is not ambitions enough to address the needs of the health visiting workforce.
Ms Morton pointed out that with 152 local authorities in England, expanding training places by just 57 spots in 2025 would not even provide one extra student per local authority.
Likewise, Ms Morton referenced estimates that England needed an extra 750 health visitors to be trained every year ‘just to stand still’.
Under the current NHS workforce plan the net gain proposed for the four years after 2025 would only be 416 health visitors.
‘That’s way too slow,’ Ms Morton said. ‘Everybody is going to be disappointed unless we increase the pace and scale of this. It does need to start slowly, it will take time for training establishments and placement providers to build capacity to respond to increased student numbers, but then it needs to ramp up pretty swiftly if we’re ever going to achieve the numbers that we need.’
Ms Morton also added that one of her key criticisms of the workforce plan was that it does not start until 2025, asking: ‘Why can’t we train extra health visitors starting this year?’
‘One of the things that is good about the plan is that it’s an ongoing plan for the next 15 years, we welcome this long-term commitment to health visiting. But we need to build with the vision of what it is we’re trying to create at the end,’ she said.
‘We recognise that it’s taken eight years to destroy the health visiting services, and if you cut 40% of the workforce it’s probably going to take eight years to rebuild it.
‘We need to take the long view, but what I do know is that if we start today, we’ll be a day nearer.’
In response, an NHS spokesperson said: ‘The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan aims to put the NHS workforce on a sustainable footing for the long term.
‘The plan outlines that the health visiting workforce would need to expand by between 32% and 74% by 2030/31.
‘To support this expansion, training places for health visitors will grow by 17% by 2028/29.’
They added: ‘We thank the Institute for Health Visiting for its contribution and commit to continue working with our stakeholders as we implement the plan.’
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to giving babies and children the best start in life and have increased local public health grants – which fund the commissioning of services including health visiting – to over £3.4 billion for all local authorities.
‘We are also investing around £300 million to fund a new three-year Family Hubs and Start for Life programme – improving health and education in 75 local authorities with high levels of deprivation.’