‘School nurses could overlook abuse due to paperwork burden’

School nurses spend so much time on paperwork that abuse or neglect could be missed, says children’s commissioner.
Sad boy

School nurses are spending so much time on paperwork that they might miss neglect or abuse, the children’s commissioner for England said.

Anne Longfield said school nurses are increasingly less accessible to individual pupils because of their heavy caseloads, with many nurses spending twice as much time on paperwork than on direct contact with children.

In a report based on responses from 775 school nurses, the commissioner stated nurses do not have enough time to spend on proactive work such as health education.

Workload pressures

The report found school nurses are picking up work traditionally done by social workers. Yet the number of school nurses in England fell by almost 12 per cent (357 full-time equivalent posts) in six years to 2,630 this year.

The RCN said the findings reflected what its members are saying, and action must be taken to address staffing problems.

The college warned last month that falling school nurse numbers put vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse because nurses play a key role in safeguarding and identifying risk.

Too thinly spread 

Findings of the report, called the Lightning Review: Children’s access to school nurses to improve wellbeing and protect them from harm, include:

  • 42% of school nurses spend four hours a day or more on paperwork.
  • 13% of nurses say they spend most of their day – six hours or more – on bureaucratic activity.
  • Two thirds of nurses were responsible for the health and wellbeing of children at five different schools.
  • 23% of 409 nurses who responded to a question on child protection reported difficulties contacting social workers when they were concerned about a child.
  • Of 382 nurses, 41% said they were unhappy with the outcome of at least half the referrals they made to social services.

Ms Longfield said: ‘It is clear from this research that school nurses face significant barriers in working directly with children and young people, with paperwork getting in the way,’ she said.

‘The support they offer needs to be better promoted and new ways to enhance their engagement with children explored.’

Skilled and experienced

RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing Fiona Smith said: ‘School nurses have the skills and the experience to provide a wide range of health support, from counselling to promoting healthy lifestyles.

‘Despite the importance of the role, this report echoes what many RCN members have been telling us for some time – school nurses do not have the time or resources to carry out their roles as effectively as they would like to.’

Further information

Lightning Review: Children’s access to school nurses to improve wellbeing and protect them from harm