‘Undervalued’ Lincolnshire health visitors hit the picket line

Today marks the first of several planned strikes organised by the union Unite over the next two weeks due to concerns over health visitor pay rates, increased workloads and job role changes. 

“Our workload is increasing, and our pay is diminished”

Nicola Robbins

It is believed to be the first time that health visitors in the county have taken industrial action under these circumstances. 

Unite health visitor representative for Lincolnshire, Nicola Robbins, told Nursing Times that the situation had been “very unsettling” for those on the frontline.

“We’ve lost a lot of staff and staff that are in post have been thinking about leaving, and even leaving the profession,” she said.

“We feel undervalued and ultimately people go to work to be remunerated fairly and we are clearly not being paid fairly.”

The decision to take industrial action follows a ballot of 58 health visitors employed by Lincolnshire County Council, as reported by Nursing Times last month.

The strikes were called after the county council apparently withheld annual pay rises for staff who transferred from the NHS to the local authority but were still on Agenda for Change contracts.

Unite claimed some of its health visitor members in Lincolnshire had lost more than £2,000 a year since the transfer in October 2017.

Representatives from the union met with the county council on Friday for a discussion on the matter but where unable to reach a settlement.

Ms Robbins stressed that it was more than just pay that had forced health visitors to take strike action.

“It is a sad indictment of the council bosses that they have allowed the situation to reach this stage”

Steve Syson 

She claimed that the council had proposed to split the health visitor role into two tiers made up of a junior and senior position.

“The junior health visitor role does not equate to that of a qualified specialist community public health nurse qualification and the competences that they have to achieve in order to join a part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register,” said Ms Robbins.

She said that this left health visitors “very concerned” over the future of the service.

At the same time, Ms Robbins said health visitors were struggling with increased workload because of their merger with children’s social care under the county council.

“We’re taking on much more of a high safeguarding role than previously and we’re still expected to achieve the five core contacts under the Healthy Child Programme,” she said.

“So, our workload is increasing, and our pay is diminished – in real terms it’s a pay cut.”

Marking the beginning of the strikes, health visitors held a demonstration near the county council’s gates at Newland, Lincoln in which they were joined by members of the public who supported the cause.

Ms Robbins described the strikes as a step that was not taken lightly by those in the profession.

“It goes against our reasons for us going into the profession in the first place,” she said.

“But hopefully this demonstrates the strength of our feelings, the strength of our concerns and ultimately the impact of what the council are doing.

”It will have a direct negative effect on the families that we are trying to work for.”

Further 24-hour stoppages are planned for 19 and 22 July, which will be followed by a 48-hour strike on 25 July, Unite has said.

“The county council has always valued the professionalism and work of our health visitors”

Heather Sandy

Unite regional officer Steve Syson said he believed it was the first time that the county’s health visitors had taken strike action in defence of their pay and professional standards.

“It is a sad indictment of the council bosses that they have allowed the situation to reach this stage,” said Mr Syson.

Though he added that the “door remains open for constructive talks” with the council to settle the dispute.

Interim director of education at Lincolnshire county council, Heather Sandy, said: “The county council has always valued the professionalism and work of our health visitors and the support they provide to Lincolnshire families.

“We were keen to avoid strike action which has been threatened by the Unite union which represents approximately one third of our health visiting workforce.”

She reiterated that the council and union were “unable to reach an agreement” at the meeting on Friday, but added that the council also “remains open to ongoing discussions”.

Ms Sandy also assured that plans were in place to cover absences in the event of strikes and noted that “no-one will be left without support”.

health visitors take strike action 2

Health visitors take strike action 2

Source: Unite the union

Health visitors take strike action outside county council gates