Health visitors and school nurses are holding a campaign meeting in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday (26 April) to hammer out a checklist for prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) which will call for public health budgets to be properly ringfenced.
About 100 community nurses, members of Unite, the country’s largest union, were due to lobby MPs to generate support for the public health agenda that delivers services for families and young children.
But because MPs will now be in their constituencies preparing for the 8 June general election, the emphasis will now be on preparing a campaign checklist so that PPCs are fully appraised about what is happening to the public health agenda since local councils in England took it over from the NHS in 2015.
The union, which embraces the Community and Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, is seriously concerned as workforce figures show that health visitor numbers have slumped by nearly nine per cent since that 2015 transfer.
Wednesday’s meeting will be addressed by Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth.
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “We want to draw up a campaign checklist on public health so that our members can lobby the prospective parliamentary candidates and gain their support for the next parliament.
“We want to highlight to the PPCs that the progress on health visitor numbers in recent years can’t be allowed to slide, otherwise it will be families with young children and babies who will suffer.
“NHS health visitor numbers have been dropping almost consistently from month to month since October 2015, when the workforce was at its largest size recorded in more than a decade.
“The government needs to secure the future of community nursing by increasing and ringfencing money for these public health professions and the vital work that they carry out with families on a daily basis.
“The ‘public health’ purse strings are now held by local councils, struggling with unrelenting cuts from Whitehall. While, in theory, public health budgets are ringfenced, in practice, council bosses can interpret what constitutes ‘public health’ in flexible ways.”
According to the latest provisional NHS workforce statistics (October 2016), there were 9,410 health visitors (whole time equivalents/WTE) in the NHS, compared with 10,309 the year before. There were 2,561 WTEs in the school nurse workforce in the NHS, compared with 2,725 the year before.
The figures from NHS Digital show the number of health visitors working in the NHS in England plummeted by 8.7 per cent (899 WTE posts) between October 2015 and October 2016 and school nurses dropped by six per cent (164 WTE posts) during the same period.