Vantage point: strengthening the school nursing workforce

Nationally, the number of school nurses has been declining, but the need for new services to treat young people with mental health problems has never been higher. 

Since the government’s Future in Mind review in 2015 of young people’s mental healthcare, I have heard how some areas have used their share of the extra £1.25 billion over five years to implement new services to treat young people with mental health problems.

School nurses have the skills to communicate with young people. Picture: Alamy

This is great, but what are we doing with existing services to help young people’s mental health from worsening, and to halt the increase in how many are referred into already stretched services?

What can nurses do?

School nurses, for example, are registered nurses with specialist community public health degrees, who work in schools and the community, and are in many cases a young person’s first, independent contact with health services.

While many school nurses have no mental health qualification, they do have the skills needed to access and communicate with young people.

They would need just a small investment to update their skills so they could give young people the immediate help and advice required to help prevent their mental health from deteriorating and their needing referral to acute care.

Figure drop

Unfortunately we have seen nationally that the number of school nurses is declining. According to NHS Digital, more than 550 school nurses have been lost since 2010, almost one fifth of the total NHS workforce in England and, with public health budgets at a stretch, we will continue to continue to see their numbers fall.

I have had the privilege of working for a service that has been supported by its commissioners to keep its school nurses, but I am saddened to see that several areas have stopped employing theirs.

As school nurses, we need to strengthen our voice and use our leadership skills to ensure that what we do for children and young people continues, that our skills are updated and our value is recognised nationally.

About the author


Susie Scales is joint winner of the RCNi Leadership Award 2017, 5-19 clinical lead at Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust, and a member of the Nursing Management editorial advisory board


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