A possible decline in the health visitor workforce – and a massive shortfall in school nurses - could jeopardise the life chances of the estimated 200,000 babies living in ‘complex’ family situations, Unite, the country’s largest union, warned today (Monday 14 December).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, welcomed the cross-party ‘1001 Critical Days Manifesto’ highlighting the issue of early years care as ‘a wake-up’ call for ministers.
Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), called for the government to reverse funding cuts and help cash-strapped local authorities in England copper-bottom this essential early prevention service – or the next generation of children will be failed.
Unite said that, despite the last government’s pledge for 4,200 extra health visitors, there was now a possible disturbing downward trend, which is compounded by the prospect of councils privatising their public health services, such as health visitors, school nurses, drug and alcohol workers and sexual health advisors.
According to the Health & Social Care Information Centre, the number of health visitors in August this year was 11,642 whole-time equivalents (WTEs), but Unite argues that if the government pledge of 4,200 more health visitors had been met the figure should be 12,292 (WTEs) – a shortfall of 650.
School nursing, a key component in local government’s public health programme, faces an even bleaker future. There are just 1,189 WTE school nurses for a school-aged population (5-to-19) of 9.4 million in England.
In 2004, a review by the then Chief Nursing Officer (England), Sarah Mullally said there should be a full time school nurse for every secondary school and its cluster of primary schools. At the time, there were an estimated 2,500 school nurses.
Unite argues that if successive governments had implemented that recommendation, there should now be a total of 6,700 (WTE) school nurses – but currently there is a shortfall of about 5,500 school nurses.
Unite national officer for health, Barrie Brown said: “The background to this is the slash-and-burn austerity cuts of the last five years. The working tax credits axe has only been postponed by chancellor George Osborne – it will be arriving in a different form some years down the track.
“The quality early years care is vital in the battle against the growing inequality in the UK - and ought to be given critical attention by government.
“The next time that the Tory government crows about its alleged cash boost for the NHS – the problems it has created over its financial disdain for ‘public health’ are already lapping at its doorstep.”
Unite professional officer for health visiting in England, Dave Munday said: “It is vital that the government removes the so-called ‘sunset’ clause on the five mandated visits that health visitors now make in England.
“This standard needs to be guaranteed after April 2017, otherwise the sun will surely set on the health visiting service as we now know it. In Scotland there are 12 such mandated visits.
“It is in the first 1,001 days that there is the best chance to turn around the life chances of those children living in difficult family situations. The cost of perinatal mental health and child neglect is already £23 billion a year – and this makes the case for prevention irrefutable.
“However, what is happening to the health visitor and school nurse workforces does not engender confidence for the future.”
Notes to editors:
Mandated contacts are the five visits that health visitors are meant to make in the first two-and-a-half years of life at the following stages: antenatal; new baby, six-to-eight weeks, at one year and at 24 to 30 months. A link to these dates can be accessed via: http://goo.gl/GZCF4N
For more information: please contact Unite professional officer, Dave Munday on 07918 630700
Unite press office on 020 3371 2065
Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.