Redeployment of health visitors has left vulnerable children at risk

Health visitors fear the needs of vulnerable children have been missed due to staff redeployment to support the COVID-19 workforce, according to a new UCL survey.

The survey of 663 health visitors in England, conducted between 19 June and 21 July 2020, found that 41% of respondents in teams that lost staff had between six and 50 team members redeployed between 19 March to 3 June 2020.

Commenting on the UCL survey, RCPCH President Professor Russell Viner, said:

During lockdown, when their contribution was more important than ever, the crucial work of health visitors has been hampered by a lack of PPE and by frequently – and often needlessly – being redeployed into areas away from children and families. This can never be allowed to happen again.  Children now need to be at the heart of planning in the event of either local or national lockdowns and for the demands of the coming winter.

These findings paint an extremely bleak picture. The health visitor workforce is absolutely vital to the health of children and now more so than ever. Health visitors act as a frontline defence against multiple child health problems – from providing advice to parents on nutrition and feeding, to early identification of risk factors for mortality, advising on vaccinations and identifying vulnerable children.

As under-resourced services struggle to cope with the backlog of missed appointments, missed reviews, missed operations and missed vaccinations, UK children are facing a winter from which some will never fully recover. Their needs must be prioritised by this government right now. Proper resourcing of a profession as key as health visiting is a very good place to start.