A crunch meeting is being held tomorrow (Wednesday 7 November) on the future of children’s services in Cornwall, with the prospect of parents paying for health visitors to carry out vital health checks on their babies and children.

Unite the union, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that children’s services were at a crossroads when Cornwall council’s cabinet meets tomorrow to discuss its One Vision blueprint.

The choice facing the cabinet is between keeping children’s services in-house or a so-called ‘alternative delivery model’ by a company that is separate from the council with the potential to make profits from hard-pressed parents.

Unite regional officer Deborah Hopkins said: “We are at a crossroads in Cornwall as to how we look after and care for babies and young children. The prospect of means testing for such children’s services, including visits by health visitors, will be an anathema to the vast majority of Cornish people.

“Even the One Vision framework admits that child poverty is ‘a persistent issue in some areas’.

“One of the founding principles of the NHS in 1948 is that health services should be free at the point of delivery for all those in need – the proposals in the One Vision document are throwing these principles out the window.

“We need to have the widest public consultation possible and keep our children’s services in the hands of the taxpaying public and not outsourced to a profit hungry company.”

The introduction of charging is heralded in the document’s section on Drawing on funding opportunities where one proposal is: ‘Introduce means tested charging for a range of family support services’.

About 235 health visitors and school nurses are transferring into a Cornwall council integrated children’s service in April 2019, to work with a multi-disciplinary team, alongside services for families and young people.

Who runs this service is the crux of tomorrow’s meeting – and Unite is urging councillors to keep the services in-house

Unite said that managers of children’s services ‘don’t foresee’ families paying for health visitors and school nursing, but there is no guarantee that future charging won’t be introduced.

The debate about children’s services comes hard on the heels of the recent story of a homeless 17-year-old boy who was bought a tent to live in for five weeks after he appealed to Cornwall Council for help.

Unite regional officer Deborah Hopkins added: “Cornwall, so reliant on the seasonal tourist trade, is reportedly the second poorest region in northern Europe, so I am not sure where councillors would expect hard-pressed parents to find the cash to pay for a visit from a health visitor.

“Increasingly, Cornwall council is relying on private companies to provide services. We believe that the council should jettison these flawed and misguided proposals – our children deserve so much better.

“We must also ensure that the cabinet makes funds available from copious reserves, to look after our children’s safety and well-being.

“We are disappointed that no councillor, while facing these decisions, has sought the view of the expert clinical staff providing this care. The council’s cabinet has so much power to improve the life chances of every baby born in Cornwall – that would be best served by the in-house option.

“It is time that a line in the sand is drawn and the Trojan Horse of children’s services’ privatisation is stopped at the River Tamar.”

A recent survey revealed that nearly 20 neighbourhoods in Cornwall are among the 10 per cent most deprived in England, according to The Index of Multiple Deprivation.

In 2006, a Cornish school nurse told a shocked health secretary Patricia Hewitt at the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association conference that she had 9,000 children on her books – today Cornwall is struggling to fill posts in school nursing.

Unite lead professional officer for the South West Ethel Rodrigues said: “Unfortunately, what is proposed in Cornwall is not unique. Other cash-strapped authorities across England are eroding the provision of children’s services, as they grapple with severe Tory cuts to local government budgets.

“The problem is compounded by the dramatic slump in the number of health visitors since the health visitor implementation plan ended in 2015, which we are campaigning to reverse.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065

  • Unite represents workers in Britain and Ireland with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.