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COVID-19: health visitors concerned that staff redeployments left vulnerable children exposed

Taking staff from health visitor teams during the COVID-19 pandemic means needs of vulnerable children could have been missed, survey reveals
Picture shows a healthcare worker calling at a patient’s home

Taking staff from health visitor teams during the COVID-19 pandemic means needs of vulnerable children could have been missed, survey reveals

Health visitors are worried that staff redeployment during the COVID-19 peak means the needs of vulnerable children may have been missed, a survey shows.

The survey of health visitors in England, which obtained 663 responses, also found that those who continued face-to-face visits felt they were given inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Taking staff from health visitor teams during the COVID-19 pandemic means needs of vulnerable children could have been missed, survey reveals

Picture shows a health visitor calling at a patient’s home
Picture: iStock

Health visitors are worried that staff redeployment during the COVID-19 peak means the needs of vulnerable children may have been missed, a survey shows.

The survey of health visitors in England, which obtained 663 responses, also found that those who continued face-to-face visits felt they were given inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Some 60% of health visitor teams had at least one member redeployed due to COVID-19, according to the survey, conducted between 19 June and 21 July by University College London (UCL) with support from the Institute of Health Visiting.

Some teams lost half their strength, meaning caseloads leapt

Of these teams, 41% had between six and 50 staff redeployed between 19 March and 3 June.

About 10% of teams that had staff redeployed lost at least half of their team. Only 9% of those with staff redeployed were given additional staff to fill the gaps.

This meant 38% of respondents saw their caseload increase, some by 50% or more.

Many worried about children being exposed to domestic violence

The redeployments have led to health visitors reporting concerns about child safety and development. These include:

  • 96% of respondents being concerned about children in homes where there is a risk of domestic violence and abuse.
  • 83% being concerned about missed needs in relation to a child’s growth.
  • 75% with concerns about breastfeeding.  

Of those health visitors who continued to carry out face-to-face visits, 35% reported they did not have enough PPE between 19 March and 3 June. This included items such as masks, aprons and hand gel.

Early identification and support of the most disadvantaged families

UCL economics research assistant Abigail Dow called for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

‘This will require investment to strengthen the health visiting service, which plays a crucial role in the early identification and support of the most disadvantaged families,’ she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘2 billion items of PPE have been delivered to NHS and social care staff across England, with almost 28 billion items ordered to ensure continuous supply.

‘We are determined to address the long-standing inequalities that exist in healthcare, be they in access, outcomes or people’s experience of their local health service.’

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Find out more

University College London (2020) Vulnerable families at risk as health visitor workloads increase


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