17th November 2023
Breaking news: Yesterday, at the CNO Summit for Chief Nurses and senior leaders, Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, announced that she will be taking over professional leadership of public health nursing – this will include health visiting, alongside school nursing, occupational health nursing and health promotion.
Since Viv Bennett retired as the Chief Public Health Nurse in 2022, this senior national post has not been filled, leaving a gap in professional leadership for health visiting in England.
During her keynote address in London, Dame Ruth said:
“You will have heard me say before that health visitors and school nurses sit outside my portfolio and how this has saddened me. So today I’m extremely happy to share that this is changing.
“I look forward to gaining professional leadership for the specialist public health nursing and midwifery workforce including health visiting, school nursing, occupational health and health promotion. It’s really exciting.”
Whilst we await the full publication of the new Vision for our nursing and midwifery professions (which includes health visiting and is due imminently), Dame Ruth presented a high-level overview. The Vision will utilise the professions’ expertise, skills and unique position to protect and support the health of our nation now and into the future. It is focused on five priority areas:
- Protecting our planet
- Prevention, protection, promotion and reducing health inequalities
- Person-centred care
- Public and patient safety
- Professional leadership and integration.
With two additional enabling areas focused on:
- Professional culture
- People and workforce development.
In setting out the drivers for her Vision focused on public health, Dame Ruth May explained:
“The past few years have made it abundantly clear that our professions play a critical public health role. However, there is much more that we should, and can, do to support people to have the best start in life – and to live a longer, healthier and happier life. That is why one of the ‘P’s in my new Vision is to focus on ‘Prevention, protection, promotion and reducing health inequalities’. It will be essential that we maximise the public health impact of our entire professions.”
Ruth outlined the reasons for focusing on health visiting, saying:
“We also need to ensure that we have the right capacity and capability in our specialist public health workforce, such as health visitors, school nurses, health protection nurses and those working in occupational health, and inclusion health services. That is why I am pleased to see that the Long-Term Workforce Plan has made a commitment to (…) increasing the training places for health visiting by over 70% by April 2032. There is still fire in me to do more!”
Alison Morton, iHV CEO, has been participating in the CNO Summit, as part of the panel for the ‘Strengthening professional leadership for the specialist public health nursing and midwifery workforce’ sessions over the 2-day event.
Responding to the announcement on health visiting, Alison said:
“I am clearly delighted to see this renewed focus on health visiting and the importance of investing in our babies and young children. Finally, health visiting is back on everyone’s agenda! And the ‘safety critical’ nature of our role is being recognised. Having to watch our profession being stripped bare following years of cuts has been heartbreaking for me personally – and for all health visitors. This ‘change at the top’ and Ruth’s ‘fire’ to drive lasting change, is therefore very good news.
“It has been a privilege to work with Dame Ruth May and her team behind the scenes to help shape this Vision and make the case for the profession. They understand the compelling evidence for prevention and early intervention in the earliest years. We are now at a pivotal moment for health visiting and the babies, young children and families that we support. I am very much looking forward to working together with ‘Team CNO’, and all health visitors, to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead and turn this Vision into reality”.