Suffolk County Council axes 41 health visitor roles amid shrinking budget

Liberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton raised serious concerns over the health visitor changes. Picture:

Liberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton raised serious concerns over the health visitor changes. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Fresh questions have been raised over cuts to Suffolk’s health visitor service, after it emerged that more had been axed than first envisioned.

In June, it was reported that 31 of the council's 117 health visitor roles were being eyed for cuts, but the final numbers revealed that in actual fact 41 had disappeared.

According to the council 10 additional posts had been created for supporting health visitors, but did not themselves have a caseload.

Health visitors work with families to provide advice, care and support, particularly around newborns, with the move coming as a result of a 16% drop in central government funding - valued at around £1million.

Health visitors also carry out five mandatory developmental checks - antenatal, new baby, six-eight weeks, one year and two or 2.5 years - but it is understood community nurses will now be required to carry out the one and two year checks.

It has prompted fears from the council's Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, which has put in a motion to the next council meeting calling for changes, that families will not be able to develop the same trust if multiple people are carrying out the checks.

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There were also fears about community nurse workload, the amount of training they receive compared to health visitors and the lack of public consultation on the changes.

The group's leader Penny Otton said: "I was shocked to learn that health visitors have been cut by 35% at Suffolk County Council, without any public consultation.

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"Combined with the planned closures of children's centres, I am really worried about what these cuts will mean for families in Suffolk.

"All of the evidence shows that investment in early intervention is the best and most cost-effective way to support children and families.

"If we continue to cut these services, the consequences for parents and their young children will be devastating.

"I am calling on the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council to think again about these short-sighted cuts.

"The service is stretched to breaking point and staff are already struggling with high caseloads - we desperately need to be investing more resources, not less."

A council spokeswoman said the re-tendering of the contract was commercially sensitive, which meant a public consultation was not possible.

The spokeswoman added: "Due to a national reduction in the public health grant of 16%, we have had to make adjustments to the care and support we provide, and often these have proved to be difficult decisions.

"However, we believe in the new service, and by working corroboratively, we will provide the very best care and support that our children and young people deserve.

"Our new service, which meets national guidelines and includes additional features prioritised by local parents and young people, ensures that our most vulnerable children and families are supported by our most qualified and experienced health professionals. Changes in staff numbers and the mixture of skills reflect population and deprivation data.

"All families will see the same health visitor for an antenatal, new birth and six week check. This will allow us to identify vulnerable children and families at the earliest time. After these visits, less-vulnerable families will be supported by staff nurses and healthy child practitioners, and encouraged to attend child health clinics and access other services either in person or online. The most vulnerable families will continue to be supported by their designated health visitor.

"Between visits, all families will have the mobile number of their health visitor and can contact them whenever they want. If the health visitor is unable to answer the call, the Health Business Centre can respond to health enquiries, rearrange visits or pass on messages."

The motion calls for all mandated checks to be carried out by health visitors and more health visitors to be recruited.

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