Public health funding cuts ‘put children’s health at risk’

16 May 17

Children’s health is being put at risk because of falling numbers of health visitors and school nurses, a Royal College of Nursing report has found.

Services have borne the brunt of £200m cuts to public health since the policy area was transferred from the NHS to local authorities in 2015, the trade union concluded.

“Local authorities have been given responsibility for health visiting services from the NHS at a time of severe financial constraints,” the report out yesterday stated.

“Subsequent redesigning and recommissioning of services in this economic environment have left children’s public health services vulnerable.”

The study reveals the number of health visitors has fallen by 1,000 since 2015, when there were more than 10,000 in the NHS.

A 16% drop in full-time school nurses between 2010 and 2017 was also identified – despite the number of school age pupils increasing by more than 450,000 during that time.

“Health visitors and school nurses play an essential role in promoting healthy mental and physical development, safeguarding vulnerable children and providing a critical link between school, home and the community,” the RNS said.

Royal College of Nursing

Royal College of Nursing

The report found that planned reductions in public health funding for 2016-17, reported by a range of local authorities, fell most heavily on those aimed at improving children and young people’s health – 14% of total cuts.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Cuts to these critical services risk not only the health of our children, but also the future of our country.

“There’s a wealth of evidence that ill health in childhood can have a detrimental impact in adulthood. If these cuts continue, we’re heading for more health problems, more inequality and even more pressure on our public services down the line.”

Royal College of Nursing graph

The RCN is calling on the next government to provide the resources needed for all local authorities to provide strong and effective health visiting and school nursing services for all children.

Local authorities’ public health commissioning responsibilities are funded by a ring-fenced public health grant.

At the beginning of 2015/16 the total grant amounted to £2.8bn per year. Around £860m per year was added when local authorities took over responsibility for health visiting, primarily to pay for early year services.

However according the RCN, a £200m in-year cut was then made to the public health grant for 2015/16, and the 2015 Spending Review brought further cuts of an average of 3.9% in real terms, running annually to 2020.

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