Health visitors in east London, who have suffered a 40 percent reduction in numbers since 2000, are warning that unless cuts are reversed the safety of hundreds of children could be compromised.
Worried members of the Unite union and the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA) have said “another Victoria Climbie is on the cards” as there are not enough health visitors available to ensure vulnerable children are properly looked after.
Victoria was a three year old child who died after under- resourced social services teams in north London failed to act effectively after receiving evidence of physical abuse.
The subsequent inquiry into her death led the government to promise that adequate resources would be given to all those involved in child welfare and protection. This has not happened.
Unite says health visitors in Waltham Forest have identified cases of rickets, degenerative neurological conditions, poor diet, missed immunisations and post-natal depression that have not been picked up soon enough because of a lack of health visitors.
The once universal visit by health visitors to children aged eight months has been stopped for most families. The number of school nurses is also being reduced, despite a government pledge that every secondary school would have one by 2010.
There are 23 “open child health clinics” for children under five within the primary care trust’s area, but the demand is such that there is “standing room only” in some.
Unite says that the problem is not restricted to Waltham Forest and that nearby boroughs, such as Camden and Newham, are also facing long term cuts.
The lack of home visits means people most at risk are often the least likely to be seen, says Waltham Forest health visitor Norma Dudley.
She said, “The most vulnerable and depressed people – where there may be something untoward happening – are not the ones who are going to come along and see us in clinic.
“Unless we are doing a lot of home visiting we simply won’t see those families.”
In 2000 Waltham Forest primary care trust funded 43.6 whole time equivalent health visitors.
By 2007 that number had been reduced to just 26.1. They are now responsible for the welfare of 4,500 babies born in the borough last year.
Health visitors say that some of the cuts in Waltham Forest are the result of a “study” by management consultants Meridian Productivity, which Unite describes as a “number crunching exercise”.
Now the union is calling for urgent talks with primary care trust boss Sally Gorham, who earns at least £110,000 a year, in a bid to restore the number of health visitors to 35 – the number who worked for the trust in 2002.
Similar cuts in health visitors are taking place around the country.