Drop in health visitor numbers revealed
By Lilian Anekwe
The number of health visitors working in primary care in England has fallen sharply, with some areas now employing no health visitors at all, new figures show.
Figures released by the Department of Health, reveal the number of full time equivalent health visitors in England fell by 14% between 2004 and 2008, from 10,137 to 8,764.
The total number of health visitors has also fallen by 16% over the same period, from 13,303 to 11,190.
Some PCTs – including NHS Middlesbrough – had no health visitors at all in 2008, the latest date for which workforce figures have been published by the DH.
And both NHS Haringey and NHS County Durham had fewer than ten health visitors covering the entire trust.
Health secretary Andy Burnham recently pledged to ‘increase markedly' the number of health visitors and tie investment in health visiting ‘more explicitly to levels of deprivation'.
The Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) has called for 8,000 more health visitors to be recruited and trained to work in primary care.
Dr Cheryll Adams, head of strategy and practice development at the CPHVA, told Pulse GPs are increasingly left to deal with new parents with no access to a health visitor.
Dr Adams also said the shortage of health visitors could have a knock-on effect on the swine flu vaccination campaign currently being rolled out in general practice this winter.
‘Health visitors play a really important role in reassuring patients about the safety of vaccines,' she said.
'In many areas of the country health visitors only see parents once at home, and health visitors are too few and their caseloads too heavy to be able to build a relationship. It's quite a skill to be able to unpack parents' concerns. We saw the effect that has had on MMR vaccination rates and it may affect swine flu vaccination in babies and young children too.'New Department of Health figures show a big fall in the number of health visitors New Department of Health figures show a big fall in the number of health visitors