Minister hints at health visiting return to regulated profession

Children's secretary Ed Balls has hinted that health visiting will return to a regulated profession.

Ed Balls (Photograph: Alex Deverill)

On Wednesday at the Unite/CPHVA conference in Southport, Merseyside, health minister Andy Burnham said his mind was ‘not closed' on the issue.

On Thursday Mr Balls went further, telling delegates: ‘I think the issue of statute is something we should look at. I think [recruitment problems] are about stature and status as well as pay and progress. I spoke to Andy [Burnham] about how we can protect and promote children's services. But it's important we discuss this properly.'

The CPHVA says the current crisis in health visiting stems in part from the removal of health visiting from statute in 2001.

The children's secretary also defended Labour's progress towards the target of having one specialist school nurse in every secondary school by 2010. ‘We've got 50% more than we had five years ago. The numbers have gone up substantially. Governments can set ambitious targets that they struggle to reach or easy ones and pat themselves on the back.'

Mr Balls also defended the decision not to set targets to ensure trusts recruit more health visitors and school nurses. ‘I don't think its right to tell NHS organisations how to spend their money,' he told Healthcare Republic. ‘These are issues about the way the NHS is organised, and the way it is made accountable.'

Sarah Cowley, of the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery in London, told Mr Balls recruitment was more than just encouraging commissioners to take on more staff. ‘Commissioners want to recruit, but they can't. People have spent a whole health visitor's salary advertising, and not got a single applicant. It's the same with school nurses. We have a huge problem.'

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