Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association

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Changing Descriptions and Definitions of Health Visiting


The information given below is by the kind permission of:

Cowley, Sarah, Buttigieg, Margaret and Houston, Anna [In]

A First Steps Project To Scope The Current And Future Regulatory Issues
For Health Visiting : Report prepared for the UKCC.
London : April 2000; Page 15, Table 2.1


Florence Nightingale
cited in Owen 1977: 5

Florence Nightingale: 'It seems hardly necessary to contrast sick nursing with this (health visiting). The needs of home health bringing require different but not lower qualifications and are more varied. She (health visitor) must create a new work and a new profession for women."

cited by Davies 1988: 43

Described by a Lady Superindent:
"The health visitor is usually a superior woman of the class sought to be helped. She is in touch and sympathetic with the people she visits; she understands them and they understand her. Each visitor lives in her own district, in a small cottage or maybe a couple of rooms.She is easy access at all times, and her home is naturally an object lesson in cleanliness, tidiness etc. to the neighbor, who of course occupy similar houses. She is regarded as a friend, and proves herself a true one over and over again.

1946 National Health Service Act 1946
(Section 24) cited in Robinson 1982: 15;
HVA 1987

Required local health authorities to:
make provision for the visiting of persons in their homes by visitors, to be called ' Health Visitors' for the purpose of giving advice as to the care of young children, persons suffering from illness, to be expectant or nursing mothers and to others with the care of young children

Jameson Report
cited in Robinson 1982: 15

The functions of the health visitor .....
should be primarily health educdation and soical advice. Her contribution would be to act asa a common point of reference, a common source of information of a standard kind, a commonadviser on health teaching - in a real sense a 'common factor' in family welfare. She could help eliminate continual visiting of one family by a number of workers for purposes that are essentially the same, in particular by relieving others of the need for purely supportive visits.

Council for the Education and Training of Health Visitors

The Function of the Health Visitor (information leaflet)
The health visitor is a nurse with post-registration qualification who provides a continuing service to families and individuals in the community. Her work has five main aspects:

  1. The prevention of mental, physical and emotional ill health and its consequences
  2. Early detection of ill health and the surveillance of high risk groups
  3. Recognition and identification of need and mobilisation of appropriate resources where necessary
  4. Health teaching
  5. Provision of care; this will include support during times of stress and advice and guidance in cases of illness and in the care and management of children. The health visitor is not, however, actively engaged in technical nursing procedures.

Health visitors are practitioners in their own right, detecting cases of need on personal initiative as well as acting on referrals.


National Health Service
(Qualification of Health Visitors) Act 1972;
cited in 121 and HVA 1985: 5

A health visitor is a person employed by the local health authority to visit people in their homes or elsewhere for the purpose of giving advice as to the care of young children, persons suffering from illness, to expectant or nursing mothers as to the measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and includes a person employed by a voluntary organisation under arrangements with a local health authority, (NB. This definition updated the one used in Section 24 of NHS Act 1946, which was repealed under the NHS Reorganisation Act 1973, when health visiting services moved from local authority to NHS control. It is believed to be the statutory definition that is still in use.)


Council for the Education and
Training of Health Visitors p9

The professional practice of health visitors consists of planned activities aimed at the promotion of health and prevention of ill health. It therefore contributes substantially to individual and social well-being by focusing attention at various times on either an individual, a social group or a community. It has three unique functions:

  1. Identifying and fulfilling self-declared and recognised as well as unrecognised health needs of individuals and social groups
  2. Providing a generalist health agent service in an era of increasing specialisation in the health care available to individuals and communities
  3. Monitoring simultaneously the health needs and demands of individuals and communities; contributing to the fulfillment of these needs; and facilitating appropriate care and services by other professional health care groups.

Health Visitors' Association

The health visitor, by promoting health and health policies, empowers people to take responsibility for health as individual, families and communities, and thereby helps to prevent and minimise the effects of disease, dysfunction and disability. (Definition first coined for evidence to Cumberledge Review. Reaffirmed in 1992)

Royal College of Nursing

Health visiting is that branch of the 'family' of nursing which is specifically directed to promoting, advancing and preserving the health of individuals, families and communities. The specific characteristics of its practice which distinguish it from other kinds of nursing practice are the emphasis which it places on the proactive search for health needs (as opposed to responding to the demand for care) and on primary prevention (as opposed to treatment, its focus on people as members of groups (families and communities), and its concern with the health of population as well as individuals.

NHSME: The Roy Report

In identifying suitable management structures for community nursing under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990, provides the following description:
Nursing in the community embraces the wide range of services provided by district nurses, health visitors, GP-based practice nurses, school nurses, community psychiatric nurses, mental handicap nurses, community midwives and specialist nurses such as Macmillan, stoma and continence nurses.

DH White Paper: The New NHS

Community Nurses: includes practice nurses, district nurses, health visitors, school nurses

CMO Project to strengthen the
Public health function

Describes three classification of public health work, of which one contains.......
a group of 'hands on' public health practitioners [who] spend a substantial part of their working practice furthering health by working with communities and groups.......This group includes public health nurses, health promotion specialists, health visitors, community development workers and environment health officers.


Home Office Green Paper:
'Supporting families' para 127

Health visitors are fully qualified nurses who take additional training, covering child development, public health, psychology, sociology, health promotion and teaching.
NB this description appears to relate to the 1965-1994 syllabus

Department of Health:
Making a Difference para 10.8

In the context of an intention to 'modernise' the role of health visitors:
We are encouraging all health visitors to develop a family-centred public health role, working with individuals, families and communities to improve health and tackle health inequalities. Health visitors need to work in new ways, across traditional boundaries with other professionals and voluntary workers.


Nursing and Midwifery Council:
Requirements for pre-registration
health visitor programmes

The overall purpose of health visiting is to improve health and social well being through identifying health needs, raising awareness of health and social well-being, influencing the broader context which affects health and social well-being, and enabling people to improve their own health. This is achieved through the health visiting contribution to public health which takes account of the different dynamics and needs of individuals, families and groups, and community as a whole.