Warning over heavy caseloads for school nurses

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Low staffing levels and heavy caseloads mean school nurses may not able to fulfil their roles "safely or effectively", it has been warned.

The situation is so bad that the average school pupil today gets just 12 minutes a year of school nurse time, it is claimed

Three leading healthcare journals are now urging that action be taken to safeguard children and young people's health services.

The British Journal of School Nursing (BJSN), the British Journal of Midwifery, the Journal of Health Visiting – all sister titles to SecEd – last week jointly published an article detailing six "fundamental threats" to services.

Shortcomings in these six areas are putting huge pressure on midwives, health visitors and school nurses, the journals warn. The six areas are: an ageing workforce, inadequate recruitment strategies, heavy caseloads, low staffing levels, a lack of training, and the need for fair pay.

The article warns that there are just 1,186 full-time equivalent school nurses in England, meaning each pupil gets on average 12 minutes a year of their time.

Caroline Voogd, editor of BJSN, said: "Students' needs are increasingly complex and the current caseloads mean that school nurses spend most of their time fire-fighting.

"If school nursing services had the capacity and resources to work more closely with school staff and carry out effective health promotion and early intervention, I believe this would have a direct and substantial impact on student wellbeing and achievement."

She added: "Low staffing levels and heavy caseloads mean that midwives, health visitors and school nurses may be left unable to perform their roles safely and effectively."

The article argues that the number of available training places for school nurses needs to be increased and problems in the training and commissioning system must be ironed out.

It comes after the Education Select Committee last month raised concerns about the caseloads of school nurses as part of its report into PSHE and sex and relationships education.

The MPs' report put the number of full-time equivalent school nurses at 1,209, who they warned need to cater for a total of 7,140,000 pupils. One school nurse from east London told MPs that in her area there were 22 school nurses serving 42,000 children.

The journals also argue that midwives, health visitors and school nurses would benefit from targeted training on specific areas of need that they are expected to deliver on, such as mental health. With adequate training, they could detect problems early and carry out interventions.

Ms Voogd added: "It is estimated that mental illness costs the UK over £100 billion per year and mental health services are struggling to cope. A well-trained midwifery, health visiting and school nursing workforce could help prevent many mental health problems escalating and reduce the costs and strain on mental health services."

The article adds: "We need a government with enough courage and vision to see beyond its five-year mandate, because serious and substantial investment, not lip service, is needed to bring sustainable change. Anything short of this would have disastrous consequences on the health of the population and generations to come." You can read the full article at http://bit.ly/1wLFkPE

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