North Yorkshire children’s public health service changes to be ratified

County Hall, Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council looks set to ratify a partnership with an NHS trust to introduce sweeping changes to public health services for children, which include cuts to school nursing and health visiting.

The council’s executive will on Tuesday consider entering an agreement with Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust with the aim of “improving outcomes for children and their families”.

The move, which has been developed over the last two years initially aimed to save £6.75m over a decade in response to Government public health cuts, which were announced a year before the pandemic.

The transformed Healthy Child Programme would see a cut to the number of mandated home visits carried out by health visitors following the birth of children and end checks at school, such as hearing and vision tests, which have identified health issues for generations of pupils.

Leader of the council’s Independent group, Councillor Stuart Parsons, has described the move as “short-termism”, saying it would have a knock-on impacts, ranging from education to long-term health.

Nevertheless, the authority’s children’s services boss Councillor Janet Sanderson says the overhaul will lead to service users’ experiences improving, cutting duplication, removing gaps in the system, enabling information sharing an ensuring interventions are evidence-based.

However, following concerns and several hundred responses to two public consultation exercises on the changes since last autumn the council has unveiled a series of measures it says will ease the impacts of the changes.

The authority said the most notable areas of concern had been around planned the changes to school nursing and audio-visual screening and potential impacts on safeguarding.

As part of a revised ten-year agreement, the council has agreed to fund a safeguarding practitioner post to provide advice to NHS staff and nursing advice to schools.

In addition, it has now been proposed that health visitors continue to assess children’s sight and hearing as part of the mandated health and wellbeing reviews in children aged up to five, and will refer families where issues are identified to their GP. Where school staff are concerned about a child’s hearing or vision they will be told to advise parents on how to access high street audiology and opticians, which are available free of charge.

Work is ongoing to address concerns raised in the consultations that a reduced offer on sexual health would lead to increased rates of teenage pregnancy, STIs and risk-taking behaviour. The additional cost of the school nursing and safeguarding measures could cost the council up to £253,000.

A council spokesman said to ensure the effective and value for money delivery of the mandated services, its director of public health would undertake an annual review.