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Leading healthcare bodies call on government to halt reduction in health visitor numbers

The RCN has urged that funding for health visitors must be protected as latest workforce figures show hundreds fewer posts in recent months.

The RCN has urged that funding for health visitors must be protected as the latest workforce figures showed hundreds fewer posts in recent months.

In a letter to The Times published today, the RCN joined with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and other national bodies to call on the government to protect ‘the fundamental contribution’ of health visitors in the UK.

The latest NHS Digital workforce figures showed the number of health visitors in England had fallen since the start of the year.

There were 433 fewer posts between March and April alone, from 10,144 to 9,711.

Significant reduction

The RCN said anecdotal evidence suggested this was just the start of a significant reduction in the service due to local authority budget cuts.

It said health visitors were vital in preventing ill health and that cutting their numbers threatened the success of several government priorities, including tackling obesity in adults and children.

'Protect funding'

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The government needs to protect the funding for these vital services – the health of the nation is at stake.’

A government health visitor implementation, launched in 2011, provided funding to train more than 4,000 new health visitors but the letter warned that, should further positions be cut, this would be a wasted investment.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Health visitors are a vital part of the community care that the NHS provides – that is why we’ve funded, recruited and trained thousands more since 2010.’

The Times letter in full

Sir,

With the health service facing an ever-increasing demand for its services, health visitors have a vital role in preventing ill health and offering advice and support to families. However, cuts to local authority budgets have left many teams and their clients facing an uncertain future.

The loss of health visitors could have irredeemable consequences for children and families, stunting the progress of several government priorities, ranging from reducing the incidence of obesity and mental health issues (in children and adults) to promoting social inclusion.

Any money saved would be eclipsed by the resulting added pressure on the NHS.

Should positions be cut, the previous government’s health visitor implementation plan, which boosted the health visiting workforce by more than 4,000, would become a wasted investment.

According to the latest figures, the number of health visitors in England has been falling since early 2016, with a drop of 433 posts between March and April alone. Anecdotal evidence suggests this drop is just the start.

We urge the government to secure funding for health visiting services and protect their fundamental contribution to health care in the UK.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary, RCN; Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, executive director, Institute of Health Visiting; Obi Amadi, lead professional officer (strategy, policy and equalities), Unite; Professor Maureen Baker CBE, chair of the Royal College of GPs; Professor Woody Caan, professorial fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health; Dr Carol Ewing, vice president for health policy, RCPCH; Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive, National Children’s Bureau; Dr Rajalakshmi Lakshman, consultant in healthcare & children’s public health; Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive, Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI); Jeremy Todd, chief executive, Family Lives; Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC.

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