School nurse shortage ‘putting children’s lives at risk’

Posted: 9th March 2023

Source: The Guardian

Royal College of Nursing calls on government and local authorities to properly fund school nursing services.

Children’s lives are being put at risk because of the shortages of school nurses, experts have warned.

Austerity measures have resulted in more than 500 school nurses leaving the profession without being replaced.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the loss of school nurses was leaving teachers without vital training and pupils without necessary support. It is calling on the government and local authorities to ensure school nursing services are properly funded.

The continued deterioration of services could leave pupils who have health conditions such as asthma, epilepsy and diabetes unable to attend mainstream schools, the RCN believes.

NHS staff data published this week revealed that more than 550 school nurses were lost between May 2010 and May this year, 19% of the total. More than 100 have been lost so far this year.

The RCN said cuts to funding meant that many posts were going unfilled at a time when there was a growing push to increase mental health intervention among children and young people.

Almost a quarter of those aged 11-15 in England report having a long-term illness or disability, including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and arthritis.

Despite guidance from the Department for Education in 2014 that stipulates all children with health conditions should be supported to go to school, the number of school nurses has fallen from 2,987 to 2,433 full-time NHS posts in England.

Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “Children with conditions such as asthma, epilepsy or allergies could experience a life-threatening emergency at any time.

“Without the right training, guidance and support from school nursing services, teachers could be completely unprepared for this kind of situation – putting children’s lives at serious risk.“It is time the government wakes up and realises the hugely detrimental impact these cuts are having to our children and our society. School nursing is a critical service and it needs to be treated as such.”

Kevin Courtney, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The drop in the numbers of school nurses is yet another symptom of the school funding crisis. It is simply untenable that head teachers should have to continue to struggle on with a situation that is so negatively affecting the education and wellbeing of our children and young people.”

Lisa Thurston’s son Owen developed epilepsy when he was at primary school in south London and his condition became more severe as he got older.

“The school’s support in Owen’s care was absolutely critical,” she said. “When Owen was diagnosed in 2010, the school nursing team provided free training to ensure the school staff had the skills in emergency care to help Owen if and when he needed it.

“We were very lucky that Owen got this crucial care, but diminishing school nursing teams will have a serious impact on similar children with health conditions.

“As a parent and a school governor, it is frightening to see the difference between statutory guidance and what care is actually available. Every child deserves to be safe at school and, without the right health care staff, I just don’t think this will be the case.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “School nurses play an important role in supporting the health and wellbeing of young people.

“Local authorities are best placed to make choices about services for their community which is why decisions about public health funding sit with them. To help, we are investing more than £16bn in local government public health services over the current spending period, and will continue to support schools in their duty to make arrangements for pupils with medical needs.”

Categories: Education News