Nurses who visit children and their families at home are threatening strike action over pay and an “erosion of professional standards.”
A total of 57 health visitors employed by Lincolnshire County Council will take action in what is believed to be an unprecedented move.
The ballot closes on Thursday, June 27.
Unite Union claims that staff have lost more than £2,000 since they were transferred from the NHS to the council in 2017.
While NHS staff in England last year accepted a three year pay deal where the majority won a 6.5% hike in pay.
The worker’s union also said it is seriously concerned about the downgrading of the health visitors’ professional status – something which the county council denies.
Unite regional officer Steve Syson said: “It is unprecedented that the health visitors in Lincolnshire are being balloted for strike action on the council’s refusal to give them a pay rise since 2017.
“However, it did not stop the council digging deep into hard-pressed taxpayers’ pockets to pay chief executive Keith Ireland £292,000 for less than six months’ work – there is a strong whiff of hypocrisy hovering over county hall.
“We want our members to have a pay rate that properly reflects the health visitor specialist role, in line with the county council’s grade 10, backdated to April last year.”
There are 111 full-time posts in the county but the strike action only involves the 57 who have been transferred from the NHS to the council.
Sally Savage, assistant director of children’s services, said: “Lincolnshire County Council highly values the role of health visitors as part of our workforce. They are an essential part of children services and provide valuable advice, support and guidance to families.
“Health visitors transferred to the county council over a year ago on agenda for change terms and conditions. They are able to choose to remain on those terms and conditions albeit that the inflationary increase does not apply for legal reasons.
“However to enable health visitors to continue to receive inflationary increases in their salaries, all have been offered an opportunity to transfer to the county council terms and conditions, whilst retaining their NHS pension.
“The council pay scales reflect agenda for change pay and are, in fact, slightly higher. The job descriptions meet all the professional standards of specialist community public health nurses. We feel that this offers a proportionate response to Unite’s concerns.
“We have invited Unite to submit a formal dispute so that we can sit round the table with them and explore how we can resolve this issue, but to date, they have not submitted a dispute. We are working with the other unions who are supportive of our position
“We don’t agree with Unite’s assertion that the county council have reduced the professional responsibilities and duties of health visitors, who are a valued part of our workforce, using their professional skills on a day to day basis to support children and their families.”
Unite professional officer for the East Midlands Jane Beach said: “What the council has done is create a two-tier health visitor service that is being dressed up as a so-called ‘career progression scheme’.
“Health visitors are nurses or midwives who have undergone additional specialist training and are experts in assessing, planning and leading on preventative healthcare for children and families.
“The reality is that council bosses have removed key elements – leadership, planning, evaluating, managing complex safeguarding – from the level 1 health visitor role and moved these to level 2.
“By removing the specialist elements, the level 1 no longer constitutes a health visitor role. This will leave a big gap in the service putting children and families at risk with fewer level 2 health visitors who themselves will be at risk of burnout.
“This is short sighted given the current crisis in general practice and, ultimately, will result in delays in support for children and families in Lincolnshire, many of them in vulnerable circumstances, which, we believe, will have a serious impact on their health and social welfare.”