As the latest Royal baby, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is due to receive a first visit from his health visitor, now is a good time to highlight the continuing travails of the health visiting profession.
The latest figures from NHS Digital reveal the lowest number of health visitors in England since September 2012.
There were 7,694 health visitors in England in January this year, a fall of 25 per cent since their peak of more than 10,000 in October 2015 when the Health Visitor Implementation came to an end.
While Harry and Meghan’s son will want for nothing when it comes to healthcare in the years ahead, there are millions of families, many of them in vulnerable circumstances, who are being adversely affected by the salami slicing of health visiting – a profession that has its roots stretching back to the 1860s.
The reasons for this current crisis are multi-faceted: lack of political will by the Tory government; serious cutbacks to local government funding for health visiting and public health; and a reduction of training places for the new generation of health visitors.
This means that health visitors now look after more under-fives than the 250 maximum recommended by the Community Practitioners’ and Heath Visitors’ Association (CPHVA).
Health visitors have rightly built up an enviable reputation over the decades as coming into the family home and dispensing excellent advice on child development and the need for the MMR vaccine to ensure the 95 per cent ‘herd immunity’ from these unpleasant diseases.
And, in some cases, they are in the frontline to pick up the signs of domestic abuse – such abuse can occur in any environment from leafy, prosperous suburbs to disadvantaged inner city estates.
Surely, this is a service that is worth continuously investing in rather treating as the poor relation in the health service ‘family’.
It was David Cameron, as prime minister, who strongly pushed the health visitor implementation plan under the coalition government, as it is understood that it was a health visitor who helped his son Ivan who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
We need to return to the time that health visitors were central to the public health agenda.
So what can we do in the near future to rectify the present dire situation?
- Reverse the cuts to health visiting since 2015
- Reinstate the student health bursaries in England
- Bring back commissioning of health visiting from local councils to the NHS
- Ensure that health visiting remains universal and not reduced to a selective and targeted service
- Stop less qualified health staff doing what are considered the more skilled health visiting roles.
We wish baby Archie a long and healthy life – but also call for the resources so that all his young contemporaries receive ‘a right royal’ health visiting experience.
Pic of model