School nurses essential to solve child health crisis

The RCN holds its annual school nurses conference today (August 24) at which it will urge greater investment in the service to help tackle a range of childhood health problems

A severe shortage of nurses in schools is a major factor behind the escalating health crisis in UK children.

The dire warning has come as the RCN prepares to hold its annual school nurses conference today (August 24) at which experts will urge for greater investment in the service.

The number of pupils at the UK’s 24,317 schools grows exponentially year-on-year and currently stand at more than 8.4 million and yet in comparison the number of nurses employed by the NHS to work in education has dropped to just 3,053.

Health Education England has estimated the vacancy rate for this area of nursing in the country to be 24%. It comes at a time when the public health budget took another blow, this time to the tune of £2 million.

As a result, authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire are already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health.

However, health professionals will use today’s conference to highlight the vital improvement to children’s health employing a school nurse can make.

They will point to worrying statistics such as how one in three children in the UK is now overweight, and one in five obese. How, one in ten pupils suffer from a mental disorder and also that a recent report found that five more children die per day in the UK than in Sweden.

The Children’s Society Good Childhood Report 2015 placed the UK almost bottom in an international survey of children’s happiness.

School nurses can also make a considerable difference to the lives of pupils with disabilities as figures also show 15.4% (more than one million students) have identified as having special educational needs.

RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing Fiona Smith said: ‘School nurses play a critical role in the health of our children yet their work is so often overlooked – and undervalued.

‘Today’s conference illustrates the wide range of issues school nurses tackle on a daily basis, from conditions such as epilepsy to behavioural disorders like ADHD. They are talented, multi-skilled nursing staff who deserve immense recognition.

'However, investment is fundamental if we are to begin solving this crisis in children’s health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.’

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