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Drop in health visitor numbers - ‘bleak’ for children

School nurse numbers fall by nearly a quarter

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The number of health visitors has plummeted over the past year, according to the Labour Party, while school nurses have dipped by nearly a quarter since May 2010.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, today slammed what he described as ‘savage’ cuts to health visitor and school nurse numbers in England.

Mr Ashworth is set to highlight the workforce decline when he addresses the union Unite’s Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA) annual conference, in Bournemouth.  

According to the new figures, the number of health visitors has declined by 8% over the past year. 

Speaking at today’s conference, Mr Ashworth will tell delegates: “Health visitors play a crucial role in caring for vulnerable children and their mothers from the very beginning of life. We know that early intervention and the first 1,001 days of life are critical in a child’s development, a fact this government is blatantly turning a blind eye towards.

“Yet savage cuts to health visitors, school nurses and community nursery nurses is another betrayal of our children…The truth is that the government’s unprecedented cuts are dismantling the country’s public health system, failing some of the most vulnerable in our society and leaving children’s services at risk.”

Labour’s new analysis suggests health visitor numbers are at their lowest since 2021 and have fallen from 8,588 in June 2017 to 7,910 in June this year. The Party also identifies ‘huge variation’ in the standard of care across regions. For example, it states that while 90.1% of babies in the North East of the country received a two-and-a-half-year check, only 62.6% did in London. 

The data also reveals a 24.7% cut in NHS school nurses between May 2010 and June 2018 from 2,987 to 2,248, and a 15.4% cut in NHS community nursery nurses from 2,229 to 1,885 over the same period.

Sarah Carpenter, national officer for health at Unite, has called the figures a “serious wake-up call”, while Sue Warner, Member of the Royal College of Nursing's Council and a health visitor, said: “These figures show the Government is sleepwalking into a bleak future for children and young people’s health. Only this week RCPCH warned of increased infant mortality, poor child mental health and obesity if we don’t act now.  

“It's clear health visitors and school nurses are key to tackling these issues, by identifying the health and care needs of young children, and supporting and educating their families. Getting them help before it’s too late.”

She added: “But month after month this vital workforce dwindles, leaving children without the support and care they need. If health visitors and school nurses are not available when families need them, they may be more likely to book a GP appointment or visit A&E when they don’t need to, putting more pressure on these overstretched services.

“Our population is growing, we cannot ignore the cuts to preventative public health services and nursing shortages across the NHS, public health and social care.

“The Government must put children, the adults of tomorrow, front and centre in any future health and care plan. It must ensure we have a nursing workforce that can meet the health needs of the population by developing a national workforce strategy and enshrining safe staffing legislation in law”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every child deserves the best start in life – that’s why they are offered five mandated health visitor checks before they are two and a half, and further support is provided as children grow up. Improving the health of our children will be pivotal in our long-term plan for the NHS, which we’re backing with additional funding of an extra £20.5 billion a year by 2023/24.”

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