Cumbria's school nurse and health visitor services could be slashed as part of a radical plan to cut children's public health spending by more than £700,000.

One former public health director says that if the proposals are approved by Cumbria County Council it would be a “disaster” and send out a message that children in this county are not a priority.

Concerns have also been raised that the cuts would make the Success Regime's wider NHS plan - to focus on community healthcare and prevent illness - even less likely to succeed.

There are currently 11 full-time equivalent school nurses working in Cumbria.

But a report by Colin Cox, Cumbria County Council's assistant director for health, care and community services, says the service is unsustainable because it is under-resourced.

It follows cuts to national public health budgets.

The proposal is to axe the school nurse service and replace it with six “health coordinators” working with the county council.

The report also proposes a reduction in health visitors – likely to fall from the current number of 87.5 full-time equivalents to 71.

This would mean their typical caseload numbers would rise but council officials say each health visitor's is unlikely to have to deal with more than the 300 case national limit.

The report says that there would be a reduced number of health visitor clinics across the county, but priority would be given to babies under the age of one.

The document goes on to concede: “Reduced contact with families increases the risks of issues and concerns not being recognised and identified in a timely way...[There is] potential for increased demand on targeted and intensive intervention if opportunities for early help are missed.”

Both the health visitor and school nurse services – key parts of the county's children’s public health service – are provided by Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health and community health services. It says that it can not rule out redundancies should the revamp go ahead.

Professor John Ashton, a former director of public in Cumbria, hit out at the plan, saying councillors should reject them.

He said: “Local governments in this country in an invidious position because they're being forced to make massive cuts.

“But the way these cuts are being implemented in Cumbria, should these proposals go ahead, will show that they do not give priority to children. It will show Cumbria doesn't value its children.

“We have children's services which are already poor. There are only eleven full-time school nurses for the entire county.

"There's been a lot in the press about the health challenges that children are facing, in terms of obesity, fitness, and not least their mental health – anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

"School nurses are in the front line. How can they give a better service by getting rid of them? It's a nonsense. It's like taking policemen off the beat and putting them in patrol cars. These are front-line services.”

These cuts are separate from those being proposed for the NHS, which a currently out to consultation and of which News & Star readers are demanding a rethink through the Save Our Services campaign.

However there are fears that the two will have knock on effects, as wider plans to reduce community hospital beds and focus on preventing hospital admissions rely on strong public health policies.

Concerns were raised at the Success Regime's public meeting in Silloth last week that cutting support services, such as school nurses and health visitors, will make their goals impossible to achieve.

Under the Cumbria County Council plans, the increased workloads of health visitors would be compensated for by them concentrating on the simpler cases, while a new “safeguarding team” would take on the more complex cases. Instead of getting five core health checks, young children may just get four with health visitors no longer seeing them at 2.5 years.

The proposals also include scrapping the family nurse partnership scheme – currently delivered by six specialist health visitors. Those six nurses would move into new specialist safeguarding roles.

Sharon White, professional officer for the School and Public Health Nurses Association, said the proposals were “nothing short of a devastating”.

The council report said the new model had been shaped through consultation with staff, parents and young people.

A spokeswoman for Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are working in partnership with our commissioners, Cumbria County Council to modernise and transform the provision of our universal service offer for children. Although we will still be providing the same health visiting service for families in Cumbria, we will be working differently with the most vulnerable families to better meet their needs.

“As the financial envelope is also reducing in line with the national picture, we are taking this opportunity to introduce new ways of working in health visiting and school nursing integrated with social care, children centres and third sector providers to work with whole families rather than individual children.

“We are already introducing innovative new service models such as chat health, a text based service for children to access confidential support from school nurses, to help us provide services that are more suited to the needs of young people and are more effective within the resources we are allocated.

“We are not yet clear of the impact on our workforce as the decision has not yet been taken by the county council and we are still developing models. However we will make every effort to ensure our expert workforce are utilised effectively.”

She added that redundancies could not at this stage be ruled out. In the proposals outlined in the County Council report are fully implemented, it would produce savings of £744,000. The proposals will be discussed by the County Council's Joint Health and Children's Scrutiny Panel next week.

Councillor Ian Stewart, cabinet member for public health and community services, said: “These proposals would result in a broader and better service than currently exists.

"Modernisation and integration, together with better utilisation of other contacts with children and their families, would result in a better service for children and their families being delivered for less cost.”

The service redesign comes amid stringent government imposed spending cuts which will see a staggering £223m cut from the authority's budget between 2010 and 2019.

The News & Star has launched a Save Our Services campaign opposing the Success Regime's NHS reforms. Sign the online form here or download a paper petition here