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Health visitor cuts hit vaccine programmes

Swingeing cuts to the number of health visitors employed across the country are putting vaccination programmes and other public health schemes at risk, Pulse can reveal.

The number of health visitors in England has fallen by 10% in just two years – from 13,303 in 2004 to 12,034 in 2006 – according to statistics from the NHS Information Centre.

And the cuts in numbers are set to gather pace, with figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealing that 40,000 fewer training places were available in 2006 than the previous year – a 40% drop.Public health experts are warning the cuts are set to hit uptake of vaccine programmes and will rebound as extra work for GPs.

Vaccine campaigns in hard-to-reach communities are set to be the hardest hit.

Cheryll Baker, lead professional officer at the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, told Pulse it estimated cuts had affected PCTs in 80% of the country. 'We're working hard with vulnerable families and, if we're not there, inevitably there will be an impact on GPs.

'Some 29% of our members say they're losing contact with vulnerable families.'

Ms Baker warned the cuts would prevent health visitors acting as a filter for children with minor complaints and could also have a negative impact on vaccine campaigns.Dr David Elliman, consultant community paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, warned: 'Health visitors are the mainstay of the child health promotion programme.

If there are cuts it will be difficult to deliver on a lot of things – not just immunisation, but accident prevention, nutritional weaning and breast feeding advice.'A Department of Health report last week called for a 'renewed role' for health visitors, with Christine Beasley, chief nursing officer, admitting: 'I know there are concerns health visiting has lost its focus.'

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