Protests mount against swingeing cuts to children's health services

If Jeremy Hunt is as keen on preventative health care and 'care in the community' as he claims to be, why is his NHS slashing health visitors and school nurses?

Malcolm Hancock
10 February 2017
unite health visitors protest.png

Image: Unite members protest cuts to health visitors and school nurses

Health workers, campaigners and concerned families are protesting in Humber over the NHS Foundation Trust’s plans to slash health visitors and school nurses by 25 per cent, in a symptom of the growing public health crisis across England.

It seems a long time since the then prime minister David Cameron pledged 4,200 extra health visitors during the lifetime of the coalition government.

Since then there’s been a massive sleight of hand. The public health budgets that pay for health visitors, school nurses and community nurses have been transferred from the NHS to local authorities, already hard-pressed after years of funding cuts since 2010.

These budgets should in theory be ring-fenced, but in practice what is deemed as ‘public health’ is open to interpretation and, therefore, at the mercy of council bosses desperately trying to juggle resources.

This is the kernel of the problem at the Humber trust, which serves nearly 600,000 people. The trust was awarded a three-year contract to provide ‘integrated specialist public health nursing service’ for East Riding council due to start on 1 April.

But because of government cuts the contract was slashed by half a million pounds. In response Unite members have been protesting, fearful of the damaging impact that the reduction in specialist help will have on babies and children.

Under the current plans the number of full time equivalent health visitors will fall from 51 to 39, while school nurses will be cut by a third – leaving just six full time equivalent posts.

These deep cuts mean reducing support and specialist help for families in greater need, and reducing support for issues like domestic violence and safeguarding.

The government talks a lot about how the NHS should focus on ‘prevention’ and ‘care in the community’ - but the cuts to preventative community based care in Humber and elsewhere give the lie to such statements. These cuts are a totally self-defeating move which will harm children’s health and end up costing the trust more in the long run.

Already, child health in the UK is falling behind many other European countries. Unite members are urging the trust to think again and ditch its plans to slash this vital service.

A report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published last month found that young people in the UK had low wellbeing compared with other comparable countries.

The State of Child Health also found that poverty left children from deprived backgrounds with far worse health and wellbeing than children growing up in affluent families.

In 2015-16, 40 per cent of children in England’s most deprived areas were overweight or obese, compared with 27 per cent in the most affluent areas.

The NHS is facing a twin onslaught by this hard-hearted Tory government – the health service is being starved of the cash it needs in real terms to tackle increasing demand and an expanding population.

‘Headline figure’ rises, so beloved by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, are not the same as the ‘real’ annual increases necessary to shore up the creaking health and social care system.

The second threat is the accelerating privatisation of the NHS for the benefit of profit-hungry health companies which will contribute to a fragmented health service and a diminution in service delivery.

That’s why the fight on the Humber is so important – a stand needs to be made not just in that region, but across England where such detrimental proposals are on the cards.

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