Cambridgeshire GPs are having to treat rising numbers of mothers with new babies because of cutbacks in the number of health visitors, according to a survey published today.

The trend follows the introduction of a controversial 'child and family nursing system' which abolished school nurses and cut 'low-risk' health visiting, including most home visits.

More than 90 per cent of GPs in the survey commissioned by the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association said health visitors were now spread too thinly. They are concerned that they have neither the skills nor the time to deal with problems such as baby feeding, sleeping difficulties, and mothers who cannot cope.

More than six out of 10 healthcare professionals surveyed believed the system was having a negative effect on public health.

'GPs are seeing a lot more child health questions and a lot more anxiety,' said Dr Penny de Lacey, a local GP who carried out an earlier study into the issue.

'But we are not just picking up problems like diet and milk. Mothers are presenting late with emotional problems in their children and postnatal depression.'

Cambridgeshire health authority director of performance Steve Clarke said the changes had been 'monitored and evaluated' and the HA had agreed additional investment in recognition of 'early difficulties' and 'service pressures'.

Report on Research Amongst Healthcare Professionals in Cambridgeshire. CPHVA. 40 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UD.£10.