Shadow families minister Maria Miller revealed how the Conservatives plan to meet their pledge to double health visitor numbers in the UK - an increase of 4,200.
The Conservatives believe that up to 16,000 qualified but non-practising health visitors can be persuaded to return to the profession.
Ms Miller told Independent Nurse's sister title Children and Young People Now: ‘There are 16,000 health visitors qualified but not working in the profession, so it is a big pool of people from which to draw.'
Ms Miller also said midwives could be encouraged to move into health visiting if nursing regulations were reviewed.
The Nursing and Midwifery Order 2001 rules that health visitors originally trained as midwives must maintain their midwifery skills to stay on the NMC register.
‘Midwives who had looked at health visiting as a career have found it difficult due to changes in registration,' Ms Miller said.
Dame Jill Macleod-Clark, chair of the Council of Deans for Nursing and Health Professions, said ‘neither proposal is realistic or sustainable'.
‘If I was advising the Conservatives, I would propose a radical rethink about what kind of health professional will be needed in the future by families,' she said. ‘I would also look at dual qualification routes combining midwifery with child health or public health.'
Former DoH advisor and health visiting expert Professor Sarah Cowley said she had ‘no idea' where the Conservatives found the figures suggesting there was a pool of 16,000 non-practising health visitors.
She said the figure was closer to 6,000, based on DoH workforce statistics from 2008.
- Read the full version of this story in this week's Independent Nurse dated 15 March