A health visitor is a qualified nurse or midwife with post-registration experience who has undertaken further training and qualifications in child health, health promotion, public health and education.
Health visitors work as part of a primary healthcare team, assessing the health needs of individuals, families and the wider community. They aim to promote good health and prevent illness by offering practical help and advice.
The role involves working within a community setting, often visiting people in their own homes. It involves supporting new parents and pre-school children. Working as a health visitor may also include tackling the impact of social inequality on health and working closely with at-risk or deprived groups.
There may be variations in the role in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which may include working with adults from the wider community.
Tasks vary according to the nature of the individual role but may include:
- using specialist healthcare interventions to meet the health-related needs of individuals, families, groups and communities, as well as assessing and evaluating their effectiveness;
- working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, which may include GPs, midwives, community nursery nurses, health visitors' assistants, healthcare assistants and community staff nurses;
- advising and informing new parents on issues such as feeding, sleeping, safety, physical and emotional development, weaning, immunisation and other aspects of childcare;
- giving support from early pregnancy to a child's early weeks and throughout their childhood - providing a gateway to other services as required;
- identifying risk factors and signs of concern and working with organisations to protect and safeguard children, as well as making sure families receive support during safeguarding arrangements;
- managing parent and baby clinics at surgeries, community and Sure Start children's centres and running specialist sessions on areas such as baby massage, exercise and child development;
- providing emotional support regarding issues such as postnatal depression, bereavement, disability, family conflict and domestic violence;
- supporting government initiatives to tackle child poverty and social exclusion;
- diagnosing minor conditions and prescribing low-level medication;
- supporting and training new health visitors and support staff;
- maintaining and updating client records;
- collecting, collating and analysing data to ensure that specific health targets are being met;
- planning and setting up health promotion displays.
- Health visitors usually start at Band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. This begins with salaries of £26,041 and rises to £34,876 with seniority.
- Team managers and health visitor specialists can earn up to £40,964 on Band 7 of the NHS pay scale.
Extra allowances can sometimes be earned for additional responsibilities and length of service. Pay outside of the NHS can vary as not all areas have agreed national pay scales.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Health visitors usually work a standard 37.5 hours per week. The job can involve some evening work at clinics, drop-in centres and support groups. Health visitors involved with project work and development activities are required to work the hours dictated by the project.
Opportunities exist for career breaks, part-time work and job-sharing, as well as bank work.
What to expect
- The job generally involves home visits to see clients.
- Posts are available throughout the UK and the amount of vacancies is expected to continue to rise.
- Health visitors usually visit clients within a specific geographical area of a clinical commissioning group. They also hold clinics and support groups in regional surgeries and centres, so mobility and a driving licence are essential.
- There is no uniform, but there is a dress code. Most health visitors wear appropriate and comfortable clothing, but casual items such as jeans, trainers and shorts are discouraged.
- Working with families and young children, including those at risk, means that the job can be stressful and challenging. Risk to personal safety may be an issue, depending on the role.
- Travel within a working day is frequent, but absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel is uncommon.
To become a health visitor, you must first be a qualified and registered nurse or midwife. You then need to undertake an approved training programme in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (SCPHN) or Health Visiting (HV).
You can begin this training as soon as you want after becoming registered, as there is no minimum period of post-registration experience required. For information on training in nursing or midwifery see adult nurse and midwife.
SCPHN and HV training is carried out at degree level. This usually takes one year full time or the equivalent part time. Courses may be completed in a shorter period where credit is given for prior learning or experience.
If you have not studied to become a nurse or midwife but do have a health-related degree, you may be able to get accreditation of prior learning, which allows you to complete pre-registration nurse training in two years, instead of three, followed by the one-year SCPHN/HV course.
Before joining an NHS trust, you will be required to undergo a series of pre-employment checks including occupational health and Disclosure and Barring Service checks.
Information about funding, secondments and sponsorship is available from websites of the local health authority and The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA). Competition for traineeships is high, so you may need to apply in more than one year to gain a place on a course.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- an interest in health and social issues and in developing programmes that will improve public health;
- an approachable personality and the ability to get on well with and gain the trust of people of all ages and backgrounds;
- excellent communication, questioning and listening skills, as well as the ability to interpret body language and other non-verbal communication;
- interpersonal sensitivity, empathy, patience and tact;
- the ability to work independently and autonomously as well as in multidisciplinary teams;
- good time management, organisational skills and the ability to prioritise a varied workload;
- influencing skills and the ability to motivate people to make lifestyle changes;
- the emotional maturity to deal with potentially distressing issues and challenging situations;
- a willingness to take responsibility and make appropriate professional judgements with confidence.
Pre-entry experience that demonstrates a commitment to working in the community or is directly relevant to the work of a health visitor is useful. Experience of working with children, obstetrics, midwifery, paediatrics or community and health promotion is advantageous.
Health visitors are employed mainly by the NHS within a range of settings. Some are attached to general practices and undertake home visits throughout the practice area, as well as see patients within the surgery.
The role may also involve organising and attending clinics and sessions in community and children's centres.
In some areas, it is possible to work as a member of a staff 'bank' and provide cover for vacancies. It may also be possible to find work through specialist nursing agencies.
Universities and other academic institutions employ experienced health visitors to work as lecturers or tutors. It is also possible to work with new health visitors in a tutoring role.
There are limited opportunities to work within the charitable/voluntary sector.
Look for job vacnacies at:
- Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland - has a jobs section.
- NHS Jobs - jobs and trainee positions in England and Wales.
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Nursing Times Jobs
- RCN Bulletin Jobs
There are a number of specialist recruitment agencies handling both temporary and long-term vacancies.
To work in the UK, all nurses, midwives and specialist community public health nurses (including health visitors) must register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) and pay an annual registration fee.
You will need to renew your registration every three years and to do this you need to show that you have met revalidation requirements within that time. This includes at least 450 hours of registered practice and 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD). Find out more at the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC).
Various activities are recognised as professional development including conference or seminar attendance, distance learning study and personal research.
Post-entry training varies between trusts, with each providing its own training to support professional development. Generally, training involves a system of mentorship for the first year. There are various courses, both in-house and external, that you may wish or be encouraged to attend, in areas such as:
- child protection;
- positive parenting;
- postnatal depression;
- domestic violence.
Depending on individual trusts, there are other opportunities to develop areas of professional interest through post-registration degrees or research projects.
Sponsorships, grants and scholarships are available through a number of charities, academic institutions and professional bodies, and research can also be self-funded. There are also opportunities to get involved in projects aimed at improving or enhancing specific areas of healthcare services.
Currently many health visitors remain in a frontline role throughout their career but there are other routes you can progress onto using the skills acquired as a practising health visitor.
You may decide that you want to become a team manager/community matron. As well as carrying out the role of a health visitor you will have additional responsibilities managing and providing clinical supervision to teams of health visitors and other community staff. Relevant experience, plus education to postgraduate diploma level, is usually required for this role.
You could also become a health visitor specialist, which involves working with communities, families and individuals with specific health and social needs. This may include undertaking specialist service planning and working with other agencies. You will also provide training and clinical supervision to health visitors and students. Specialist learning to Masters degree level (or equivalent) is required for this role.
Some health visitors may move into strategic or clinical governance roles in a range of contexts or pursue careers within the education of nurses and other health visitors. In addition to having relevant experience there may be a requirement to undertake further study, often at Masters degree level. Job profiles of many of these areas can be found on the Health Careers website.
You can find out more about programmes for leadership development from NHS Leadership Academy.
For professionals with relevant experience, there are opportunities to work abroad in health services and voluntary organisations.