Further cuts to health visiting services could put more pressure on an already overstretched NHS, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said.
In an open letter to The Times, the RCN has called on the Government to stop cuts to health visitor services, which has seen a drop of 433 posts between March and April alone, according to the latest workforce figures from NHS digital.
Although the drop was most significant then, the number of health visitors in England has been falling since the start of 2016.
But anecdotal evidence suggests that this drop is just the start of a significant reduction in the number of these crucial services, due to cuts in local authority budgets.
In the letter, signed by major health organisations including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the National Children’s Bureau, the RCN leads the call for health visitor funding to be protected to secure remaining services and their major contribution to public health.
Cuts to services risk several Government priorities from tackling the obesity crisis in adults and children, to promoting social inclusion.
The letter says: “The loss of health visitor posts could have irredeemable consequences for children and families, while stunting the progress of several key Government priorities; from reducing the dangerous levels of obesity and mental health issues – in children and adults – to promoting social inclusion.
“Any money saved by reducing health visitors would simply be eclipsed by the resulting added pressure on the NHS.”
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, added that health visitors are “too important” to be forced out by financial cuts.
She said: “Their role supporting families and children is invaluable and a reduction in services will only lead to more health problems.
“At a time of escalating obesity, rising mental health problems and growing health inequalities, these services have never been so vital.
“Our health visitors do a unique and complex job working to ensure all children, in all areas, get the best possible start in life – something every child is entitled to.
“The previous Government’s boost to health visiting services was a vital step forward, yet these cuts risk any gains that were made and are a waste of that financial investment. Cutting health visiting roles would prove more expensive in the long term by putting added pressure on already overstretched GPs, hospitals and other health services.
“It is no coincidence that health problems are worsening as services are shrinking. The Government needs to protect the funding for these vital services – the health of the nation is at stake.”
The Government’s Health Visitor Implementation Plan, which invested significant funds in training more than 4,000 new health visitors, was implemented five years ago.