A House of Commons debate on sudden infant death deaths should reinforce the need for health visitor budgets to be safeguarded according to Unite.
Today’s (Thursday 13 October) backbench debate during Baby Loss Awareness Week comes against a background of threats to public health budgets under the control of local government since October 2015.
The latest area of concern is Worcestershire where there is continuing speculation that the number of health visitors in the county could be slashed by 25 per cent – a move that Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), has condemned as ‘short-sighted’.
In a briefing for MPs, The Lullaby Trust – previously The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) – said that 230 babies under the age of one died suddenly without a cause in 2014.
The briefing said that the trust is ‘deeply concerned’ by the adverse impact on extremely vulnerable families, who have experienced a sudden bereavement, as health visiting is reduced.
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “Unite welcomes this debate as it underlines the importance of health visiting in helping this particularly vulnerable cohort of families at this very difficult time for them.
“Unfortunately, pressure on the health visiting profession is mounting once again as one can see from reports of possible cutbacks in Worcestershire.
‘Race to bottom’
“The number of new health visitors that was promised under the coalition government has not been sustained; there have been cuts in public health budgets with health visiting not being ‘ring fenced’; and the threat that such services will be outsourced will spark ‘a race to the bottom’.
“We have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.
“The chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated that he is prepared to ‘reset’ the economy and loosen his predecessor George Osborne’s austerity corset – public health should be a beneficiary of such a recalibrating of public expenditure when he makes his autumn statement on 23 November.”
In a recent briefing Unite said that if the health visitor implementation plan, which called for 4,200 extra health visitors, had been reached there should have been 12,348 by March 2015, but there were only 12,077, a shortfall of 271.
In September 2015 that figure had slumped to 11,895 in England.