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Union demands public debate on plummeting health visitor numbers

Numbers of health visitors in Hampshire have almost halved over the past few years, prompting concerns about child safety and public health

Caroline White

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The UK’s largest union, Unite has demanded an urgent public debate on the plummeting numbers of health visitors in Hampshire.

In a public letter to local media, Maggie Fisher, a former Hampshire health visitor and chair of the Unite/Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA) Health Visitor Forum, said: “I understand that the numbers of health visitors employed by Hampshire Community Health Care (HCHC) has fallen by over 40% in the last few years.”

HCHC covers Andover, Basingstoke, Gosport, Havant, the New Forest, Romsey and Winchester.

Under a Freedom of Information request to HCHC on health visiting caseloads in January this year, it came to light that the average ratio of children to one whole time equivalent (WTE) health visitor was 596—more than double the average of 250 children for each health visitor recommended by Unite/CPHVA.

“This reduction in service means that your average family will now only receive one home visit from a health visitor when ten years ago they would have received ten. This reduction in home visits by health visitors has an impact on child health and development, child protection and public health,’ said Ms Fisher.

She added that the HCHC healthy child programme was not compliant with the Lord Laming recommendations (March 2009) which called for an increase in the number of health visitors.

She said that cutbacks to the health visiting service were being disguised as service redesign, which was putting families and children at risk and flouted all the safeguarding recommendations following the death of Baby Peter Connolly and present policy around health visiting.

"I would like to see a vigorous public debate in Hampshire about the numbers of heath visitors and the decrease in the numbers of home visits made by health visitors to ordinary families,” she said.

Unite claims that at a recent HCHC board meeting Nicky Adamson-Young, divisional director for the children’s division, reportedly acknowledged a high level of vacancies in children’s services, but said that 60 new community staff nurses had been recruited, six of whom had undertaken the health visiting qualification.

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