Councillors 'in dark' over NHS cuts

Rhiannon Evans Councillors are asking why they were kept in the dark over changes which have meant thousands of families being deprived of regular health visits. NHS Haringey s health visiting service stopped providing a universal service in July 2008,

Rhiannon Evans

Councillors are asking why they were kept in the dark over changes which have meant thousands of families being deprived of regular health visits.

NHS Haringey's health visiting service stopped providing a "universal" service in July 2008, Haringey's overview and scrutiny committee was told in January.

Run by Great Ormond Street Hospital, the service should provide a service to all families with children under four and carry out specific visits where children are considered at risk. It is meant to cover about 18,000 children.

But due to staff shortages, priority is now only given to families subject to a child protection plan or where there are children in need.

As a result, thousands of families not identified as problematic are receiving only a new baby visit and missing out on vital services and advice.

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The decision was made by the hospital and NHS Haringey.

After expressing horror that the committee had not been told, Crouch End councillor Dave Winskill asked for a record of all correspondence relating to the decision.

But at a meeting on Monday, councillors heard that only two emails could be found noting the decision between GOSH and Haringey's children's boss at the time, Cllr Liz Santry.

Cllr Winskill said: "We have had to work hard to try to find out what Haringey's response was in 2008 to these service changes.

"Quite rightly, Cllr Santry was concerned about the impact on children's centres. But there's no evidence that anyone in the children's department understood the potential impact these changes could have in terms of providing an early warning system that something might be wrong in children's families.

"Scrutiny exists to ask these hard questions and it would have been much better if we had known about this in the summer of 2008 rather than playing catch up."

Cllr Martin Newton said: "It is about time NHS Haringey and its providers took consultation seriously.

"It should have consulted the scrutiny committee and local residents on its proposals to reduce health visitor provision rather than presenting them with a fait accompli.

"NHS Haringey must now redouble its efforts to recruit more health visitors so the local community can get the full universal service they deserve."

The hospital's chief executive Jane Collins said the group had worked hard to reduce the number of vacancies to only seven.

Children were instead seen at a variety of places, including children's centres, she said.

Ms Collins said: "We have been concentrating on making sure we look after the most vulnerable children.

"But lately we have been able, as we recruit more staff, to see children in more and more areas.

"Every family has a new baby visit and every family has access to weighing and breast-feeding advice."

"We are not making excuses - it would be nice if we had more health visitors.

"But we see health visitors as part of a system and there are a number of different people involved now."

A NHS Haringey spokeswoman added: "This new approach was developed with the council and arrangements are regularly kept under review.

"Because this was a refocusing of services to meet appropriate need - and not a substantial change to the service provided - the overview and scrutiny committee were not informed at the time.