Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Disappearing Health Visitors

The Guardian reports that Suffolk County Council is to cut 31 posts from its Health Visitor workforce of 120, being ready to make several redundancies.

More detail on this story can be found in Children and Young People Now.

It is no surprise that this move has drawn a lot of criticism, not only from trades unions but also from MPs and the Local Government Association. Frankly it is a shocking and brutally regressive step that has no possible justification other than short-sighted crude cost cutting.

The British model of health visiting is an excellent one, dating back to before the First World War. Having qualified nurses who visit young children and their families at home is an effective combination of health surveillance and health support. And it is an ideal way of picking up on concerns about potential abuse and neglect before they occur. We do not know how many tragedies health visiting averts, but we do know that it takes only one tragedy to clock up millions of pounds in coroner’s and criminal investigations, court cases, hospitalisations and imprisonments, not to mention serious case reviews and public enquiries. And all the horror and suffering of a maltreated child. 

If anybody is at the front line of protecting and safeguarding very young children, then health visitors are. But our government has reneged on earlier commitments to increase the number of health visitors, which are reported to have fallen in England by nearly 25% since 2015, from 10,309 to 7852. There are now nearly as few health visitors in England as there were in 2011. 

Every time you hear a government minister carping on about commitments to child safeguarding and protection in England, you need to remember that they are presiding over reckless cuts in the number of frontline health professionals best placed to bring about early intervention.