Prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) in June’s general election will be invited to see the work community nurses do on a daily basis as part of the campaign to make the case for ‘public health’ budgets to be properly ringfenced.
This was a key objective to emerge from a campaign meeting of about 100 health visitors and school nurses in the Houses of Parliament yesterday (April 26) to hammer out a checklist to ensure that public health budgets are properly ringfenced.
The community nurses, members of Unite were addressed by Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth.
Unite wants PPCs to be 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.
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said, “Yesterday’s meeting of health visitors and school nurses and their teams at parliament was very successful and a clear blueprint for action emerged.
“We will be asking our health sector members to invite the prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) to come and see what community nurses do on a daily basis to support families with babies and young children, often in vulnerable situations, during the election campaign.
“We hope that such visits will expand PPCs’ understanding of their work so they will be better able to lobby the health secretary in the next government to properly ringfence the public health budgets that were taken over by local councils in England from the NHS in 2015.
“This transfer has seen a slump of nearly nine per cent in health visitor numbers which is very concerning,” she added.
“We would like the whole issue of ringfencing public health budgets debated by the Commons health select committee.
“We will also be asking for a moratorium on further public health cuts until agreements are in place with local authorities, NHS employers and the unions that will guarantee services for children aged 0-to-19 and that health visitor and school nurse numbers will be maintained and/or increased in the years ahead according to the needs of our populations.
“Theresa May bangs on about ‘the national interest’ – and we say that it is in the national interest that there is a strong, vibrant and well-resourced community nurse workforce that assists families and young children. Prevention of problems is more cost-effective in the long run.”
The union believes that with the ‘public health’ budgets now held by local councils, struggling with unrelenting cuts from Whitehall, they are a target for cuts. In theory, these budgets are ringfenced, but, 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.