Council leaders call for urgent investment to increase child health visitor numbers

Communities are facing a “serious shortfall” in children’s health visitors, council leaders have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said investment is urgently needed to help protect young people’s futures.

Around 8,000 children’s health visitors were employed by the NHS as of April 2018, down from approximately 10,000 in 2015, figures from the Institute for Health Visiting show.

Data on the number of health visitors working outside the NHS is not collected.

Councils took on the responsibility for commissioning health visiting in 2015, while at the same time the Government ended a scheme to boost health visitor numbers, the LGA said.

It added that councils have seen a £531 million cash terms reduction in their public health budgets between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said health visitors play a “pivotal role” in early years’ development.

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

“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.”

He added: “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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