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Health visitors right to strike over ‘downgrading’ of role, says Lincoln MP

Health visitors right to strike over ‘downgrading’ of role, says Lincoln MP

An MP has said she is ‘concerned’ that her local council is not acting in the ‘best interests’ of health visitors by pushing forward with a controversial career progression scheme. 

The comments come as Unite the Union ballots 70 Lincolnshire health visitors for strike action, due to close this Friday (25th October), following walkouts since July.  

Lincoln MP Karen Lee, who is also a qualified nurse, said she was concerned that the reforms have been introduced ‘as a mechanism to deskill the service in order to reduce pay,’ rather than in the interests of health visitors. 

Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on the reduction of health visitors in England yesterday (23rd October), she criticised a career progression scheme that she says will ‘divide the health visitor role’ and ‘create a flawed career progression scheme that restricts health visitor career progression’. 

Unite and its members have previously accused the scheme of introducing a ‘two-tier’ health visitor role where both grade 9 (junior) and grade 10 (senior) staff would not be paid as much as their NHS counterparts. 

Ms Lee argued: ‘It is my understanding that there is no rationale to explain why one health visitor would be demoted to a junior job description while another continued at the same level.

‘It is a fact that fully qualified top band 6s are leaving or have left—many with years of experience—due to a reduction in their status and an enforced three-year pay freeze. 

‘We are losing an important skilled workforce that is invaluable to our community. As a qualified nurse, I have to say that nurses and healthcare professionals do not go on strike without a really good reason.’ 

She added that health visitors are ‘desperately needed’ to ensure the 28% of children who live in poverty in Lincoln ‘receive the support they deserve’. 

The ongoing dispute concerns health visitors who were transferred to the council from the NHS in October 2017 but remained on Agenda for Change contract terms and conditions.

Unlike both council and NHS employees, they have not received a pay rise. According to Unite calculations, they have lost £2000 per year since. 

Though health visitors have the option to transition to the council’s employment contract, Unite and its members are opposed to the career progression scheme.

To progress to grade 10 on the scheme, staff must have worked as a health visitor for four years among other competencies. 

But Unite says the grade 10 role equates to band 6 on Agenda for Change, which NHS health visitors start on at the beginning of their career. 

In response to Ms Lee’s comments, a spokesperson for Lincolnshire County Council told Nursing in Practice: ‘We are not ‘demoting’ any staff through the roles provided. Both job descriptions describe the health visitor job role and both meet the professional standards for Specialist Community Public Health Nurses. The senior role simply sets out additional expectation around  leadership and supporting less experienced colleagues.’

On the upcoming ballot, interim director of education at the council Heather Sandy said: ‘We met last week with representatives from Unite, overseen by ACAS. There were constructive discussions and we have committed to confirm our position in writing. The council is really encouraged by the interest staff have shown in the career progression scheme which was introduced on 1 October which opens up new salaries to those staff on static paygrades. 

‘Whilst the council remains committed to resolving the current dispute with Unite, we wish to highlight and recognise the hard work of our health visiting staff who are ensuring services continue to perform well against regional and national benchmarks.  As always, we value our health visiting workforce and the excellent support they provide to the children and families of Lincolnshire.’

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An MP has said she is ‘concerned’ that her local council is not acting in the ‘best interests’ of health visitors by going forward with a controversial career progression scheme.