Thousands of families in Stoke-on-Trent, which has high levels of child poverty, could be badly hit by city council plans to slash £1 million from the children and young people services’ budget, Unite the union has warned.
Unite said about 10 health visitors and school nurses could lose their jobs in Stoke because of a proposed cut to the budget delivered for the authority by the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT).
Unite said it was a rich irony that in the December 2019 general election Stoke elected three Conservative MPs on the coat tails of Boris Johnson’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda, but now the Tory-controlled council was planning ‘cruel’ cuts which put vital services, such as maternal and child mental health, child protection and domestic abuse, under severe strain.
The plan is for the number of health visitors to be reduced by seven whole time equivalents (WTE) from 42 to 35. Unite estimates that each health visitor has responsibility for about 400 families, so if seven health visitor jobs were lost, up to 3,000 families could be adversely affected. The specialist health visitor for young people, and the staff nurses, currently at 3.86 WTE, will also be axed, if the cuts are implemented from 1 September this year.
Unite regional officer Frank Keogh said, “After more than a decade of Conservative government, Stoke-on-Trent has some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK. These cruel cuts will see vital services that tackle such issues as maternal and child mental health, child protection and domestic abuse, stretched to breaking point.
“Years of austerity and attacks on NHS and local government funding have already hit hard with the loss of children’s centres and the Sure Start programme,” he added. “Now councillors are looking to cut a further million pounds from the already much-reduced 0-19 years’ budget.
“There is a rich irony that Stoke has three Tory MPs elected on the prime minister’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda, but the council is now putting the physical and mental health of thousands of the Stoke families at risk by proposing cuts in health visitors and school nurses,” Keogh continued. “If this is not reversed, Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda in the ‘red wall’ seats will be in tatters.
“Unite has submitted counter proposals to the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, as the employer, and we will be holding discussions with them during the consultation period.
“At present, talk of ‘levelling up’ appears to be nothing more than a mirage. If the city council is committed to better services for the community, it needs to listen to the dedicated healthcare professionals who deliver the service and increase the funding for the 0-19 service – and not cut it.
“This financial ‘hit’ will further reduce the numbers of health visitors and school nurses and, therefore, leave the community vulnerable. This is at a time when families need support more than ever as the impact of the government’s austerity agenda continues to the detriment of children and the services provided to support them.
“We firmly believe that following the devastating impact of the pandemic that families and children deserve better than this.
“These health visitors and school nurses are dealing with young children at the early developmental stages. Who will identify potential issues at this stage, if the numbers of staff are reduced?”
By Shaun Noble