Children at risk due to school nurses shortage

Children at risk due to school nurses shortage

Gathering for the annual Royal College of Nursing School Nurses conference yesterday, delegates said school nurses had a unique opportunity to help improve some of the key issues facing children’s health, particularly the huge problem of childhood obesity, with one in three children in the UK overweight and one in five classed as obese.

Experts from across the UK emphasised the critical importance of school nurses in improving the health of the nation’s children. They said that by working closely with children as well as their parents and teachers, nurses could have an important role in helping pupils with their mental and emotional health.

There are now more than 8.4 million pupils attending 24,300 schools in England, with almost 94,000 more children in primary schools than there were a year ago – a 2.1% increase.

The RCN cites a recent government report suggesting that in the UK five more children under 14 died every day than did in Sweden. It said that while health problems facing children continued to accelerate, school nurses were at risk of further depletion because of £200m in cuts to public health budgets in England.

Despite steadily growing numbers of school pupils, figures have shown a decrease in school nurses since 2010. The RCN said the number of nurses should have increased during this time.

But nurses warned that Health Education England has predicted a 24% vacancy rate among school nurses. The Conference heard that local authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire were already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health, it said.

Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, 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. Unlike any other health professional, school nurses work with children and education staff on a daily basis. However, investment is fundamental if we are to begin solving this crisis in children’s health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.”

Meanwhile, in a letter published in The Times today, Irene Gray, chairwoman of the RCN’s Executive Nurse Network, has warned about the impact changes to immigration rules will have on patient care.

The RCN has estimated that more than 3,000 foreign nurses currently working in Britain, who cost around £20 million to recruit, could be forced to leave from 2017. Under new rules, nursing staff from outside the European Union who were granted Tier 2 visas after 6 April 2011 must leave the country if they fail to earn £35,000 or more after six years.

Ms Gray said: “This will leave an already overstretched service, which has to date had to turn to overseas nurses to plug gaps caused by cuts to nurse training places and poor workforce planning, at even greater risk of a staffing shortfall.”

By Mark Gould

On Medica, 24 August 2015

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