'Melt Down' in Local Health Visiting Service
Union claims children's health being risked due to staff shortage
Health visitors in Hounslow are unable to make a home visit to every new born baby in Hounslow due to a chronic shortage of staff say Unite, the health service union.
In the last six years, Hounslow's birth rate has increase but the union say that the number of health visitors in the borough has halved. Unite figures show that in October 2001, there were 37 whole-time equivalent health visitors, but by July 2007, this had slumped to 18. This, they claim, has led to a post code lottery in which neighbouring areas the Primary Care Trust can offer a superior standard of cover. There is concern amongst the borough's health visitors that staff shortages will result in illnesses in new-borns not being picked up at an early stage and that postnatal depression will go unrecognised. The resulting caseloads are leading to high levels of stress amongst staff.
One health visitor claimed the service is ‘skimming on the edge of the ice into dangerous practice’ and another said: ‘We are absolutely sinking’.
There were no qualified school nurses working in the borough during this entire period – contrary to repeated government guidelines for one qualified full-time school nurse for every secondary school and its cluster of primaries. For Hounslow, this should mean a minimum of at least 14 school nurses.
Unite is suggesting that the trust ‘recalibrates its £266 million-a-year budget as a matter of urgency’ to tackle the crisis in community nursing services.
Hounslow was one of only 11 PCTs in England not to reply to a recent Freedom of Information request by the respected Family & Parenting Institute to reveal the number of health visitors per children under the age of five. If it had, it would have shown Hounslow to be one of the worst resourced trusts in England.
Lead Professional Officer for the Unite Health Sector, Cheryll Adams said: ‘While we appreciate that the PCT’s managers are grappling with massive problems in a diverse and disadvantaged borough with stretched resources, the health visiting service is approaching “melt down”.’
We have requested a comment from Hounslow Primary Care Trust on this matter and await a response.
August 2, 2007