NHS deficits linked to fall in health visitor numbers

The number of health visitors providing essential support to children and their families has fallen to “unacceptably low levels”, according to health union Amicus.

New figures released by the government show that in 2005 there were 9,809 health visitors in England, a fall of 3.9% on the previous year and the lowest figure for 10 years.

The figures realise fears highlighted last year by the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association that primary care trusts were reducing costs by cutting spending on what they regarded as “soft” targets. Amicus has predicted that the situation for 2006 will be even worse due to health visitor vacancy freezes and staff cuts resulting from PCT deficits.

Amicus criticised health secretary Patricia Hewitt for ignoring warnings they gave last summer over a “looming crisis” in primary health services.

Head of health Gail Cartmail said: “As we warned, the combination of health and job cuts and vacancy freezes is threatening the delivery of essential healthcare services.”

The union blames the situation on recent health reforms and the burdgeoning cost of management. The number of managers in midwifery and health visiting has more than doubled since 1995.

The union’s criticisms coincided with the announcement that the House of Commons health committee has launched a new inquiry into NHS deficits, and particularly into whether the cause for shortfalls in some health trusts’ budgets are due to poor local management or the result of government policy decisions.

The MPs will also consider the effect of the deficits on care services, and the possible number of job losses. Interested organisations and individuals are being invited to submit evidence by 6 June 2006 to healthcommem@parliament.uk.

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