A former Lincolnshire health visitor believes poor pay and working conditions are to blame for the current local issues in the industry and not the coronavirus pandemic and national shortage indicated by the county council.
Parents from Lincoln previously expressed their concern due to temporarily reduced health visitor services across the county.
The council said last month that due to increased demand on the service as a result of the pandemic and national health visitor shortage it had temporarily changed the way contact is made at 8-12 months, but “only in cases where there are no existing worries or health needs”.
Six new health visitors are about to qualify with another seven due to commence training in September.
Nicola Robbins has 20 years experience in the NHS, including working as a nurse for Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust. She also worked as a health visitor for around seven years before the service was taken over by the council in 2017.
The 47-year-old, who was a union rep for Unite which led the health visitor strike against the county council, feels frustrated about the situation.
Nicola, who now works within the NHS outside of Lincolnshire, said some of the workforce she knew left at the time in 2019 as they “would not be bullied into poorer terms and conditions than even the NHS offer”.
However, the county council said all staff transferred over on their existing NHS terms and conditions, including pay, adding that “the majority of staff voluntarily opted for a local authority contract as “this would entitle them to any cost of living pay rise provided by the council”.
Nicola told The Lincolnite: “Although there is a national health visitor shortage, Lincolnshire has suffered more than other areas for reasons of the Lincolnshire county councils doing.
“Lincolnshire’s NHS health visitors were taken over by the council under a Transfer of employment (TUPE) in 2017. For two years the council refused to give health visitors working for them a pay rise – in line with the health visitors’ NHS counterparts.
“Meanwhile, new health visitors from other regions were being recruited onto council contracts which created a 2-tier workforce of ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ health visitors; this was not based upon length or qualifications. The council declined to offer NHS contracted HVs a pay increase unless they signed a council contract offering lower pay and poorer terms and conditions.
“Strike action followed and the council dragged their heels, despite many health visitors leaving and crisis managing the service.
“The council eventually agreed a compromise on pay which involved experienced health visitors being reinterviewed and signing new contracts.
“It is no surprise that Lincolnshire – as a remote county covering a large area is now struggling to recruit and retain health visitors after the way they treated the original experienced workforce who had worked for the NHS for years.
“The impact of fewer experienced staff increases workloads, places stress on existing staff who cannot deliver the service they know parents, children and carers deserve and families will slip through the net – particularly more vulnerable families and children and those with unidentified health needs.”
Linda Dennett, assistant director for children’s health and commissioning, said: “Health visiting services were brought into the council in 2017, and all staff transferred over on their existing NHS terms and conditions, including pay.
“However, the majority of the staff voluntarily opted for a local authority contract as this would entitle them to any cost of living pay rise provided by the council. This did not adversely affect health visitors’ salaries.
“The current health visitor shortage is widely recognised as a national issue and is evidently not only affecting Lincolnshire. There are simply less people coming into training to replace those leaving and retiring. However, the council continues to recruit and train health visitors.
“We have six health visitors about to qualify and another seven due to commence training in September. In addition, the council has recruited ten additional family health workers to support the service.”