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Urgent investment needed to halt decline in children’s health visitors

Children’s health visitors have seen a significant fall in numbers and investment is urgently needed to help safeguard the future of our youngest generation, councils say today.

Working with government and the NHS, councils want to protect our world class health visiting service by attracting, training and keeping new essential workers.

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says there is a struggle to recruit and retain staff, with the full-time equivalent of about 8,000 children’s health visitors working in the profession, compared to 10,000 in 2015, a fall of 20 per cent. Although these numbers do not include health visitors working outside the NHS, there is a clear downward trend.

A combination of those taking retirement, taking up other roles within the NHS and too few trainees entering the profession has led to the existing workforce being stretched to its limits in order to meet rising demand, while the numbers of vulnerable children and families is also going up.

The LGA’s call follows the publication last month of the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the first 1,000 days of life, which recognises the crucial support provided by councils and the significant financial constraints they are under.

Councils embraced the responsibility for commissioning health visiting in 2015, which coincided with the end of a government programme which had boosted health visitor numbers in previous years. The closure of the Health Visitors Implementation Plan led to an immediate reduction in new training places by 22 per cent.

In addition to the loss of investment in the health visitor workforce since 2015, councils have also seen a £531 million cash terms reduction to their public health budgets between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

The LGA is now calling on the Government to reverse these public health reductions in the upcoming Spending Review to ensure that enough support is given to those aged 0-5. Early years investment is proven to lead to significant savings in adulthood, with the benefits outweighing the costs by as much as 1,000 per cent.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Children’s health visitors working in local government play an absolutely pivotal role in helping ensure all children get the best possible start in life.

“Since councils took over responsibility for the public health of those aged 0-5 in 2015, they have done everything they can to provide this essential service and deliver the best start and support for children and families.

“Health visitors have increased the number of contacts they make with children and families, including offering vital support via schools, nurseries and children’s services, which has led to better outcomes such as an increase in school readiness.

“However, the funding has simply not kept pace with the scale and demand and we now face a serious shortfall in the number of health visitors, which has to be filled if we are to continue to meet the needs of families in each of our communities.

“Councils need well-trained, highly skilled health visitors but can only employ those who are available to them.

“The upcoming Spending Review provides an opportunity to redress this imbalance and help secure the future of our children, especially those who are most in need of help. We are keen to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to get the right number of training places commissioned and deliver retention policies to ensure health visiting remains an attractive and valued career.”

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