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Embargoed until 00.01 Tuesday, 29 February 2000

HEALTH VISITORS TOLD TO CHALLENGE NHS "POWER BROKERS"

Health visitors and school nurses need to be more assertive if they are to be key players in setting the primary care and public health agenda, according to the Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, Stephen Thornton.

Interviewed in the March issue of the Community Practitioner - the magazine of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association - Mr Thornton questions whether community practitioners are assertive enough to "get in there" and challenge the traditional power brokers: "Have people got the energy for this?" he comments.

He said: "I don't want this interpreted as me pointing fingers and blaming them, but they are the creatures of the system that developed them. I think a lot more work needs to go on in terms of developing nurses and health visitors to take on this wider role."

"I just hope the new system, despite what might be seen as new opportunities for them, doesn't close in around them and prevent them from putting their point across."

Mr Thornton, whose organisation represents NHS employers, floats the idea of having "a generic practitioner" - a fusion of traditional job titles, such as health visitor, health promotion officer, and community development worker.

"And by generic I'm not downgrading it, I'm upgrading it. I see too many boundaries between these different tribes and too many boundaries between different organisations."

On school nurses, he says that "fairly serious" questions need to be asked about what they can uniquely offer. School nurses have not always been "brought into the loop" by those responsible for the service.

The Director of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association, Jackie Carnell said: "As always, Stephen Thornton makes some interesting points. The CPHVA campaigns on a daily basis, taking the issues that affect the community practitioner to the heart of Government and the NHS - and we will continue to make our voice heard. We are not being complacent about the evolving primary care agenda."

The CPHVA will be monitoring any move by the Government to reduce the number of community nurse specialisms. Ms Carnell said: "We don't want to make the mistake of confusing the role of caring for the sick with the public health agenda of prevention and health promotion for the population as a whole."

She said that the recent National Framework for School Nursing outlined a strengthened public health role for school nurses which was "a vote of confidence".

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NOTE TO NEWS EDITORS

For further information, please contact:

Shaun Noble Press Officer (020) 7939 7043 mobile 0468 69 39 40

CPHVA press releases can be seen on the MSF web site: www.msf.org.uk

The CPHVA is an autonomous professional section of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union. The CPHVA represents 18,000 health visitors, school nurses, practice nurses and registered nurses working in the community in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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