Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege to talk to well over a thousand health visitor (HV) students across England. A few years ago, we would not have seen such numbers. With the HV implementation plan, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of HVs in practice and the Unite/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (Unite/CPHVA) is proud to have played a major role.
This was achieved by the efforts of many, who argued that the gradual decline in HV numbers during the 2000s was doing serious damage to the future health of our society. To go into the 2010 election with all main political parties saying something positive about health visiting was a great success.
In 2016, with a new Westminster parliament now into its second year of office, it is time to review and reflect. After these years of investment and protection, what do we now face?
The move to local authority commissioning is not in itself unwelcome. In different circumstances it might have led to the breakdown in barriers between the health visiting service and our local authority colleagues, with whom we share so many aims. But just as we are working to establish new inter-professional working methods, local authorities face significant cuts to their overall budgets and their public health budgets, totalling £361 million in the period 2015 to 2018. The message from service commissioners is not that they don’t know the benefits that HVs bring, but that in balancing the books, very difficult decisions have had to be made.
Set against these worrying developments, we see a range of exciting developments that will ultimately benefit children and families. The ‘1,001 Critical Days’ campaign continues to highlight the importance of the time between conception to age two. We also have a renewed focus on mental health and wellbeing issues. In June we saw the inaugural infant mental health awareness week, led by the Parent Infant Partnership UK and the publication of the Mental Health Taskforce report in February, emphasising perinatal mental health. This work mirrored the new framework published by Health Education England. Public Health England has maintained a strong focus on the early years with the recent Health Matters debate on giving children the best start in life.
The move towards devolution in the UK and its impact on health and social care policy means we are seeing a diversification in legislation and its implications on practice. All the devolved countries have stated their commitment to a strong and robust HV service and have promised funding to address deficits in their health visiting establishment figures. Perhaps most striking has been the Scottish government’s intention to bring an additional 500 HVs into the workforce to deal with their 11 mandatory visits.
Finally, as the organisation that advocates for HVs and health visiting, Unite/CPHVA will be celebrating the profession during the inaugural HV week, running between 26 and 30 September 2016. This will be an opportunity to celebrate all things health visiting, including the practitioners that make such a huge difference to the thousands of families that receive the service on a daily basis. Please sign up as a #HVweek supporter on our website at: