Invest in school nurses to improve children's mental health
Why create new roles in mental health when school nurses are already in place?
Susie Scales asks why we need to create new roles in mental health when school nurses are already in place
The Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education (2018) response following consultation on the Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision green paper suggests piloting NHS mental health support workers to provide interventions for children and young people with mild-to-moderate mental health issues in schools and further education colleges.
The 25 pilot areas across England are starting to train the staff to fill these posts. It is proposed that each team will consist of 7.5 whole-time-equivalent mental health support workers, each covering a population of about 8,000 children and young people, or around 20 schools.
While the staff are being trained on the year-long course, they will be funded at band 4 and once in post they will be paid on band 5. This new service in the first pilot will reach a limited number of children and will take at least another five years to roll out across the country.
Children and young people’s mental health welfare rates have dropped considerably. The Children’s Society (Gee 2018) cites that one in ten children between five and 16 years has a diagnosable mental health condition, and this is a big pressure on schools, but I question if training a new workforce is the answer to this increasing problem.
Working with services
If we invested more training and money into school nursing, we wouldn’t need to spend money on new roles, such as mental health support workers.
Since 2010, the number of school nurses has decreased by 23% (Royal College of Nursing 2018), and is set to continue decreasing with the squeeze on public health budgets.
School nurses are trusted healthcare professionals who already work with schools. The money for the new mental health support workers could have been put into school nursing to allow them to do the role they are trained for, which is supporting the health needs, including mental health, of the school-age population.
'The money for the new mental health support workers could have been put into school nursing'
If the number of school nurses was at the level it should be, school nurses could work with child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs) to provide clear pathways for appropriate interventions by the school nurse or CAMHs staff.
The school nurse would be able to look at the child and young person’s health needs and, as qualified nurses with a specialist practitioner degree in public health, they have the skills and trust of children and young people to work with them.
Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education (2018) Government Response to the Consultation on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper and Next Steps.
Gee J (2018) Mental Health Statistics in the UK. Children’s Society.
Royal College of Nursing (2018) Investment Needed in Specialist Children's Nurses.
About the author
Susie Scales is clinical lead for public health services at Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust, Nursing Management editorial advisory board member and joint winner of the 2017 RCNi Leadership Award