Joyce Still, health visitor and Unite delegate spoke on behalf of Unite on the health and social care debate at conference on Tuesday (September 26).
Health visitors have a key role, along with school nurses in the promoting and supporting of health throughout a child and family’s life.
“This vital role is under threat and my union has initiated a ‘love your health visitor’ campaign to highlight the importance of the service,” said Still.
“Health Visitors see all new mothers following the birth of their baby, but now, with the increasing workload, they are not able to offer the support to the mother that they were able to do in the past. This task often falls to volunteers,” she added.
School nurses are also often unable to offer support to young people because of their increasing workloads.
Since 2015 the provision of Health Visiting and School Nursing has been the responsibility of the Local Authority.
“Funding cuts have meant deep cuts in our public health services – and continuing to provide services in the face of such cuts is rightly recognised as a key priority by the Health and Care Commission of the NPF,” said Still.
As well as cuts, local authorities have in many cases tendered this out to private companies like Virgin Healthcare and Solutions for Health.
Worryingly, these companies have very little understanding of public health and the implications for staff in working with vulnerable families.
“Let’s not forget that a private company’s main interest is in making profits for their shareholders,” said Still.
“Nobody can argue against increased investment in public health, however, we also need to ensure that these public health initiatives are provided by staff who are working for employers whose priority is public health, such as the NHS, and have the best interest of the public at heart,” she added.
Health workers are continuously being pressurised to meet key performance indicators and targets.
“Whilst I accept that we need to be accountable, this seems to be more of a priority than the service we deliver to our clients and patients,” said Still.
“The Tories seem fixated on running the NHS as a business. A complete betrayal of the principles of Nye Bevin,” she added.
The Labour manifesto committed to increasing the number of health visitors and school nurses to rebuild our NHS as a public service.
“Conference, good public health services are not just important to address our health needs now, but as an investment in the health needs of future generations,” said Still.