Crisis in children's health linked to falling school nurse numbers, warns RCN

The RCN has warned that children's health is in crisis and called for the role of school nurses to be championed.
Jon Ashworth

The RCN has warned that children's health is in crisis and called for the role of school nurses to be championed

The call follows a speech by shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth where he criticised the government over falling child immunisation levels and rising childhood obesity.

Jon Ashworth
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth. Picture: PA

Mr Ashworth announced the Labour Party's intention to make children's health a 'priority' by establishing a Labour Child Health Forum to work with experts and patients on a child health strategy.

'The shameful picture of child health in England is terrifyingly real and should be receiving urgent attention from all who are concerned about the future health and well-being of our country,' Mr Ashworth told the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health today.

He added: 'Supporting our young people’s mental health is crucial yet just 11% of children’s mental health needs are met by the NHS. Cuts in one part of the system lead to pressures elsewhere in the NHS.'

Losing critical staff

Announcing the plans, Labour also highlighted figures that showed there are 11% fewer school nurses, 11% fewer health visitors and 12% fewer district nurses lost to the NHS in the past two years,

Responding, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing Fiona Smith said: 'Children’s health is in crisis, with obesity, mental health problems and numerous other issues spiralling out of control.

'School nurses and health visitors lay the essential foundations for children to lead healthy lives, ensuring that every child receives the care and support they need.

'It is truly absurd that we are losing these critical staff at a time when our children need them more than ever before. If staff numbers continue to plummet the government will have to face the dangerous consequences – for both children and the future adult population.'

In 2015, the coalition government announced £1.25 billion for children and young people's mental health services, while NHS England has committed to employing 1,700 therapists and supervisors by 2020-21.

Focus on mental health

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'This government has put an unprecedented focus on mental health – helping to break the stigma and investing a record £1.4 billion in children’s mental health so they can get the right care, at the right time.

'We were the first country in the world to introduce a national publicly-funded Men B vaccination programme using Bexsero, and uptake in all childhood vaccinations are high, around 90%, for almost all.  We are also taking action on childhood obesity – launching our world leading plan including a Soft Drinks Industry Levy.'

In other news