Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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Birkenhead’s MP laments dangerous gamble with poorer children’s life chances following reduction in NHS Health Visitors

21 September 2017
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A dangerous gamble has been taken with poorer children’s life chances, according to Frank Field MP, following the first reduction since 2011 in the number of NHS Health Visitors in the North West of England.

A House of Commons Library analysis of NHS Workforce data shows that:

- The number of Health Visitors directly employed by NHS Hospital and Community Health Services in the North West fell, from 1,799 in January 2016 to 1,711 a year later.
- This is the first such fall since the year to September 2011.
- Nationally, there were 954 fewer Health Visitors employed by the NHS in January 2017, than a year earlier.
- The Government has ceased collecting data on the overall number of Health Visitors, including those employed by local authorities or outsourced through private and voluntary organisations. 

Frank has written in a letter to the National Statistician, John Pullinger: ‘A weight of evidence shows how an intensive programme of home visiting by Health Visitors is a most effective way of improving the life chances of the very poorest children deemed too ‘hard to reach’ by Sure Start centres. Recent trends in the collection of data, though, seem to be working against the formulation of policies that would work best to that end.

‘It is proving difficult to build up a national picture on the take-up of the Health Visitor service, and whether or not the relevant agencies know which families are not being reached even by this universal service.

‘I cannot identify any national data on the actual number of home visits, nor the duration of those visits, that poorer families can expect to receive from their Health Visitor. Again the availability of data on this front would help the Government develop the next stage in the life of this service, so that it is best able to improve levels of school readiness among poorer children.’

Frank has also asked the National Statistician to initiate a new data collection exercise to gauge the total size of the Health Visitor workforce, trends in their caseload, the number of visits undertaken to the very poorest families, the impact of the service on the wellbeing and life chances of the very poorest children, the take-up rate of the service, and which families are Health Visitors unable to reach.

In addition, Frank has discovered that the budget for training new Health Visitors in England has been slashed by over a third since 2015, and that the number of Health Visitor training places provided by Health Education England has fallen.

The Health Minister, Philip Dunne MP, has set out in a parliamentary answer to Frank how Health Education England’s budget for training new Health Visitors has been cut significantly, from £44.2 million in 2015-16, to £28 million this year; a cut of £16.2 million. According to the House of Commons Library, in 2014, 2,787 new health visitors were trained. Since then, this number has fallen every year with Health Education England only aiming for 817 new Health Visitor trainees this year.

Frank comments: ‘Given that on current trends it will take nearly half a century to close the gap between poorer and richer children’s readiness for school, surely the Government should be looking to train and recruit a whole army of Health Visitors. Yet these figures show it is moving in totally the wrong direction and, in so doing, putting a serious dent into poorer children’s life chances.’


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