Fall in number of school nurses as student population increases

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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There has been a 16 per cent drop in the number of school nurses since 2010, despite a 450,000 increase in pupil numbers over the same period.

A report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also warns that the number of health visitors – who work with children aged 0 to 5 and their families – has fallen by around 1,000 since 2015.

Health visitors and school nurses have a key role in schools promoting healthy mental and physical development and working on safeguarding issues.

However, the RCN says that since the responsibility for health visiting services was transferred from the NHS to local authorities, they have been hit by £200 million cuts to public health funding.

The report says, for example, that of planned reductions in public health funding in 2016/17, 14 per cent of the total local authority cuts fell on children’s and young people’s health services. It means that existing services are becoming more stretched, with the report pointing to evidence from the National Children’s Bureau showing that a third of school nurses are now working across 13 or more schools.

The RCN report shows that between October 2015 and January 2017 the number of full-time health visitors fell from 10,309 to 9,259.

Meanwhile, there were 3,026 full-time school nurses in 2010, compared to 2,553 in 2017. This figure includes 1,092 fully qualified school nurses with the remainder being made up by other health professionals working in school nursing roles.

In September 2015, SecEd reported on figures showing that there were just 1,186 fully qualified school nurses and another 1,867 health professionals working in school nursing roles charged with supporting the needs of England’s 8.4 million pupils.

Today, there are almost 8.6 million pupils in England – and school roles are increasing with the number of five to 10-year-old pupils in primary schools having risen by 446,000 (13 per cent) between 2010 and 2016.

At the same time, the RCN report warns that there has been a drop in the numbers of nurses taking the Specialist Community Public Health Nursing qualification to undertake public health nursing roles like health visiting and school nursing in England.

The report states: “These trends are especially concerning when considered against a rise in the school-age population, an increasing need to support mothers, and the need to help children and young people develop resilience and good mental health.

“This picture of steady reductions in health visitors and school nurses, and routes into the profession, poses a significant risk at a time when we are expecting increased attrition from (the) nursing workforce through retirement.

For those needing these services, regional variation in access to statutory services, particularly the mandated five visits from health visitors for every child, risks undermining the universality of the service.”

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Cuts to these critical services risk not only the health of our children, but also the future of our country.

“There’s a wealth of evidence that ill health in childhood can have a detrimental impact in adulthood. If these cuts continue, we’re heading for more health problems, more inequality and even more pressure on our public services down the line.”

The report – The Best Start: The future of children’s health – can be found at http://bit.ly/2qbjCCy

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