A HEALTH visitor has branded the Kirklees service as “a lottery” and claims staff shortages continue to leave vulnerable families at risk.
The health visitor – who cannot be named – says children as old as four are starting school unable to speak because they have been missed by the service.
“We just feel we are doing a poor job and offering a poor service,’’ said the woman.
“We understand money needs to be saved, but at what cost?
“It feels like a lottery.”
Health visitors are qualified nurses or midwives. Their role involves visiting people in their own homes, often supporting new parents, and they can make a referral to social services if they have concerns about the safety of the children.
In the past, health visitors also conducted checks at particular stages in a child’s life, such as on their speech and hearing, to ensure they are developing properly.
But almost two years ago, Kirklees health bosses halted routine checks for two-year-olds because there were not enough health visitors in the area to do them.
In March 2009, the Examiner reported how a recruitment drive was underway to fill the equivalent of 7.5 health visitor roles – almost 10% of the Kirklees health visiting workforce.
But the latest figures show the service is still lacking 4.7 health visitors.
And parents continue to receive letters advising them to carry out their own assessments on their toddlers using a checklist provided.
Today, Kirklees Community Healthcare Services director Robert Flack – who runs the service – assured that the vacancies would be filled when students qualified in September.
But the health visitor said Kirklees youngsters were being failed by the system.
She said: “The situation is the same if not worse, because of the financial situation.
“We are not able to deliver the minimum outlined by the Government and I find it very strange that no one is answerable to that.
“We have been asked to prioritise who we see but the problem is there are no guidelines. You just have to use your own judgement, which is dangerous.
“We may visit a baby at 12-weeks-old and if there are no concerns highlighted then, I am told I don’t have to see them at the next contact.
“I have to make that decision, but how can you know if you don’t see them?
“It is not satisfactory and staff morale is very low.’’
Mr Flack said plans to expand the service last year had to be put on hold due to cash problems.
He added: “We had a high number of vacancies last year and thanks to an intensive recruitment campaign we did fill those vacancies.
“We currently have vacancies amounting to four full-time members of the team. These are being held for student health visitors who have been working for us in a junior capacity and are expected to qualify in September.
“We did have plans to expand the service but unfortunately in the present financial climate it has not been possible to put these into place.
“We are discussing with colleagues in the Kirklees health economy, avenues for securing further funding to increase our health visitor numbers.
“In the meantime, the letter to parents outlines what can be expected of the average two-year-old and invites parents to contact their health visitor to arrange a home visit if they are concerned.
“Children identified as vulnerable before the age of two would continue to receive sustained support.
“Our health visitors continue to do a tremendous job in prioritising their workload to make sure they deliver a safe service for children in Kirklees.”