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Tagged In:  Nursing

From sex and relationship education to mental health issues, school pupils benefit greatly from the support of a specialist nursing workforce. So are dwindling numbers of school nurses putting children and young people at risk?




From sex and relationship education to mental health issues, school pupils benefit greatly from the support of a specialist nursing workforce. So are dwindling numbers of school nurses putting children and young people at risk?

"School nurses are key professionals in supporting children and young people in the developing years 5-19 to have the best possible health and education outcomes." So said Viv Bennett, the Government's Principal Advisor on Public Health Nursing, in a 2012 Department of Health report on maximising the contribution of the school nursing team.

However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that falling numbers of school nurses may be impacting on the ability of many schools to deliver effective sex and relationship education. There are also concerns about adequate support for mental health issues and tackling childhood obesity.

The latest NHS workforce statistics show that the number of school nursing posts has fallen by 13% since 2010. Meanwhile, the number of pupils in state-run primary schools rose by 9% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

As teenage pregnancy figures continue to fall, the focus is increasingly on young people's attitudes to sex and relationships. A 2014 survey of school pupils by the National Union of Students found that, while 68% of respondents found out about sex and relationships through formal education, many also relied heavily on pornography, magazines and friends for information and advice.  Research by the BBC in 2015 showed that police had received reports of nearly 4,000 alleged sexual assaults and more than 600 rapes in UK schools over the previous three years.

In a recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders, 55% of respondents reported a large increase in the number of students experiencing mental health issues over the last five years. And figures from the National Child Measurement Programme for 2014/15 show that over a third of 10-11-year-olds and over a fifth of 4-5-year-olds were overweight or obese.

In a recent poll of school nurses carried out by the RCN, more than two thirds of those surveyed said there were insufficient school nursing services in their area. Well over two thirds said that their workload was too heavy, while more than a quarter regularly work over their contracted hours.

In 2014 the Department of Health issued local authorities with a framework to maximise the school nursing team contribution to the public health of school-aged children. The guidance was clear: "The skill mix within school nursing teams needs to reflect local need and should be underpinned by a robust workforce plan which takes into account workload capacity and population health needs." 

"School nurses are there for all children and young people, providing support, encouraging healthy lifestyles andprotecting those who are most vulnerable," said Fiona Smith, RCN Professional Lead for Children and Young People’s Nursing. With only 2,600 or so nurses now caring for over nine million pupils, many people share her concern that we could be spreading their talents too thinly.

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