MPs discuss HV crisis

25 October 2019

The reduction in the number of health visitors in England, alongside other major issues facing the profession, were debated by MPs in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 23 October.

The debate was secured by Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, who is also chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the first 1001 days.

He outlined some of the serious issues facing the profession in England, including ‘growing caseloads’, ‘public health budget cuts’ and ‘the transfer of responsibility for HVs from the health service to local government’.

He spoke highly of their of their value and the importance of early intervention, with HVs being uniquely placed to offer that service. Though he was interrupted several times by some of the MPs speaking at the debate to add to the argument or raise further issues.

The statistic of the number of HVs dropping by 31% in England since 2015 was quoted often by the MPs speaking, as they outlined the issues facing HVs.

Two of the MPs talking used to work for the Unite health sector. Liz McInnes, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, and former chair of the Unite health sector said the workforce is ‘being stretched to its limits, at a time when the number of vulnerable children and families is rising.’

She also highlighted among many issues that ‘councils’ public health budgets have reduced by £531 million between 2015-16 and 2019-20.’

Talking of the ‘two high-profile vice-presidents’ the CPHVA has just appointed, Professor Gina Higginbottom and Sara Rowbotham, Liz said: ‘I hope that the Minister might find the time to meet these two inspiring women.’

Former head of health at Unite Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, said:
‘HVs are the backbone of early intervention by health services. They are the pioneers of public health, and are instrumental in addressing health inequality.’

She also said a new, and properly resourced, HV implementation plan was needed, and cited the finding from a CPHVA survey that ‘85.3% of HVs are experiencing stress.’

Luciana Berger gave a personal perspective alongside the facts and figures: ‘When I think about all the health professionals I connected with as a new parent, it was my HV who I relied on,’ she said. ‘We need to ensure that we are not creating the conditions for a public health crisis for future generations.’ 

Meanwhile, Karen Lee, MP for Labour spoke of the HVs having to strike in Lincolnshire, saying: ‘I am deeply worried by the steps that Lincolnshire County Council has taken to divide the HV role, and I was proud to support the HV strike against the proposed changes.’

She also highlighted the urgency: ‘As a qualified nurse, I have to say that nurses and healthcare professionals do not go on strike without a really good reason.’

The parliamentary under-secretary of state for health and social care Jo Churchill undoubtedly recognised the huge value of HVs and the very real ‘fragmentation’ of services. 

She said: ‘HVs are highly qualified professionals who have an important leadership role, and I wish to reinvigorate that role.’

She said they are ‘reviewing the prevention Green Paper’. And that ‘We will ask ourselves what more can be done, and we will work with local authorities and NHS bodies to address that question.’ 

Though she also said there needed to be a clearer picture of the data regarding the number of HVs. 

Just prior to the debate, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: ‘We welcome this much-needed debate today by MPs on the serious crisis facing the health visiting profession in England.’

He explained: ‘The value of a Westminster Hall debate is that a member of the ministerial health and social care team has to reply to the legitimate concerns raised by MPs – and we would urge the designated minister to outline a blueprint for action as to how the government is going to tackle the steep 31 per cent decline in health visitor numbers since 2015.’