Health visitor cuts leave GPs with extra work

Child protection and care of young mothers is being undermined by NHS cuts, GP survey shows.

More than two thirds of GPs have had to work harder because of a national shortage of health visitors, a GP survey has found.

Seventy-one per cent of 474 GPs who responded said their practice had seen an increase in young mothers seeking help with problems such as post-natal depression and feeding.

Other respondents said that they had found themselves weighing babies, or providing emotional support.

One GP in East Anglia reported 18 vacancies for health visitors in his area, leading to severe cuts in the help they can offer young mothers.

'And the PCT delays advertising them to save money,' he added.

Many PCTs and SHAs have frozen recruitment and training of health visitors to cut costs.

But critics described this as a false economy, and warned that a lack of specialist help for young mothers could mean that developmental and emotional problems went unnoticed.

One GP said the cuts could undermine child protection. 'The lack of health visitors could mean we don't know about individuals at risk of child abuse and domestic violence,' she wrote.

Other GPs said they were not the best qualified clinicians to offer young mothers advice on childcare.

'Having had no children myself, I'm not in the best position to advise on feeding or toilet training,' wrote one.

'This government has placed enormous importance on child health and safeguarding children,' said GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul. 'So it's strange that it hasn't prioritised a policy on health visitors.'

Polyclinics could make the situation worse by limiting continuity of care, he added. 'Currently, general practice is a fall-back for many patients, but I'm worried that it won't meet those needs anymore.'

The survey found that GPs' support for health visitors is not universal, however.

'Health visitors frequently increase our workload and don't seem to be able to cope with even simple matters on their own,' wrote one. 'Unfortunately they are usually not good value for money.'

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