Health visitors in Lincolnshire will strike for six days in July citing ‘no pay rises’ and an erosion of professional responsibilities, the trade union Unite has announced.
In what is believed to be an unprecedented move, 58 health visitors employed by Lincolnshire county council have voted by an 84% majority to take strike action.
Unite calculates that Lincolnshire health visitors have lost more than £2,000 a year since their employment was transferred from the NHS to the county council in October 2017.
Health visitors were able to remain on the Agenda for Change pay scale but the council said there would be no inflationary increases in the salaries for staff on those contracts due to ‘legal reasons’.
According to the council, all health visitors have been offered an opportunity to transfer to council terms and conditions while retaining their NHS pension. This would mean they are able to receive the inflationary wage increase.
The council said its pay scales reflect Agenda for Change and ‘are, in fact, slightly higher’.
Unite has also accused the council of downgrading the professional status of health visitors, which it says has resulted in fewer staff undertaking the role.
It says this has created excessive caseloads and more safeguarding issues to deal with for existing staff.
According to Unite, the council has created a ‘two-tier health visitor service’ by removing ‘key elements’ from the level one health visitor role.
Unite professional officer for the East Midlands Jane Beach said: ‘The reality is that council bosses have removed key elements – leadership, planning, evaluating, managing complex safeguarding – from the level 1 health visitor role and moved these to level 2.
‘By removing the specialist elements, the level 1 no longer constitutes a health visitor role.
‘This will leave a big gap in the service putting children and families at risk, with fewer level 2 health visitors, who themselves will be at risk of burnout.
‘This is short sighted given the current crisis in general practice and, ultimately, will result in delays in support for children and families in Lincolnshire, many of them in vulnerable circumstances, which, we believe, will have a serious impact on their health and social welfare.’
Unite regional officer Steve Syson said the actions by the council are ‘outrageous’, particularly at at a time when there is the lowest number of health visitors in England since September 2012.
He said he had contacted the council to settle the dispute but had not yet received a reply. He added: ‘Unite’s door remains open for constructive talks 24/7 for the benefit of Lincolnshire families.’
Heather Sandy, interim director of education at Lincolnshire county council, said that the council is available for further talks with Unite.
She said: ‘We understand that 44 of our 116-strong team of health visitors have voted to say they are prepared to take strike action following the ballot from Unite regarding their pay. This is less than a third of our workforce for Children’s Public Health services.
‘We wish to reassure the public that if these strikes go ahead, we have plans in place to cover absences, particularly in the most vulnerable areas such as safeguarding and primary birth visits. No-one will be left without support.’
United said the walk-outs would begin with a 48-hour walk-out on 15 July. This will be followed by 24-hour strikes on 19 and 22 July and a 48-hour strike on 25 July.