Editorial

Action needed now to prevent public health crisis

Cuts in health visitor and school nurse numbers do not make sense

It stands to reason: if you want to improve the nation’s health, surely there is no better way than to start young. That means persuading expectant mothers to stop smoking, normalising breastfeeding, running an effective health visiting service and seeing children safely and healthily into adulthood.

Such policies are so easy to think up that all UK governments for decades have spoken keenly about improving public health in this way and so reducing pressure on the NHS.

But how do health ministers suppose these noble aims are delivered in practice? Primarily by midwives, health visitors and school nurses, not forgetting their support staff and the wider healthcare team.

Fewer school nurses

It is hard to comprehend, therefore, that in the six weeks since English schools broke up for their summer holidays we have learned that health visitor numbers fell from 10,144 to 9,711 between March and April this year. At the same time, the school nurse workforce has dropped from 2,995 in 2010 to 2,606 now.

Meanwhile, the government launched a childhood obesity strategy that left everyone underwhelmed, with even supermarket bosses - who make a small fortune from chocolate bars and other goodies - saying that it does not go far enough.

Such short-term decision making will have a long-term negative impact on our children’s health, with the result that the NHS will continue to feel the strain for years to come merely because those in power continue to be obsessed with tomorrow’s headlines.

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