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School nurses are 'invisible' to teenagers

Less than one in five teenagers would talk to a school nurse if they were worried about their health, a new survey has found.  

The National Children’s Bureau conducted an online poll of 11 to 19 year-olds to find out their views on their own health and local health services

Of the 263 respondents, 75% said they would talk to a parent or carer if they had a worry about their health, 51% friends and 48% their GP. Just 17% would consider going to their school nurse.

The findings mirror the results of a survey by the by the British Youth Council last year which found nearly half of 11-18 year-olds were unsure about who their school nurse was. Meanwhile, 69% said they did not have information on how to access their nurse for help, and 73% had not visited them for anything except immunisations.

Unite professional officer for school nursing Ros Godson told Nursing Times the priority should be to increase services to roughly one school nurse per secondary school, supported by staff nurses working in primary schools. Currently school nurses usually cover two or three schools with caseloads of about 6,000 pupils.

Ms Godson said: “Why would you talk to a school nurse if you haven’t seen one and don’t know who they are? The chances of a school nurse being available [to individual pupils] when you’re covering three secondary schools and their associated primary schools are slim.”

In February the Department of Health set out a vision for a school nursing service that is “visible, accessible and confidential” and has committed to trying to expand the profession. However, no extra money is being made available and no target has been set  to increase the numbers.

Independent nurse consultant for children and young people’s public health Babs Young, who advised the DH on its school nursing strategy, told Nursing Times commissioners were looking at their school nursing provision in light of the focus from the DH.

She said: “At the moment school nurses are invisible because they’re spread so thinly. It’s quite right that young people will not trust somebody they have never met before.

“If you set a target you just get the minimum. You have to look at what the issues are in each area.”

Readers' comments (6)

  • Not only are school nurses spread too thinly a majority of their work is taken up with safeguarding issues which as we know takes up an extraordinary amount of time and paperwork.
    This leaves nurses unable to support other pupils who need health advice.

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  • If you spoke to every school nurse working today they would agree whole heartedly about this article. We all want to be available for every pupil in every school but one school nurse for approx 5 primary schools and 3 secondary schools makes that impossible. We need a school nurse in every secondary school and to look after the feeder primary school as well so that transition is continuous. That is the only way school nurses will become more visible.

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  • Who knows what a School Nurse is? How often do we go into schools? I am frequently asked what school I am the school nurse for. When I say 17 schools, parents and other health professionals are equally horrified. Safeguarding takes up most of my time, immunising and office based work takes up most of the rest. Unfortunately we do not visit schools very often and cannot be there as we would like to be. If we had the same respect and recognition that Health Visitors have, then things might have been different. Without an increase in numbers however, we are unable to get out and do what we have been trained to do. As every caring nurse can imagine, this is very frustrating....

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  • With my time with the Health Visitors I was told that in the Eastend of Glasgow (where she worked, and where my secondary school was) there was 2 school nurses when there should be 8. As a result, the HV had increased her workload too, working with kids above 5 years. I always knew my school had a school nurse, though I never used the service. I think they should have a bigger presence, especially in PSE lessons.

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  • Who knows what a School Nurse is? How often do we go into schools? I am frequently asked what school I am the school nurse for. When I say 17 schools, parents and other health professionals are equally horrified. Safeguarding takes up most of my time, immunising and office based work takes up most of the rest. Unfortunately we do not visit schools very often and cannot be there as we would like to be. If we had the same respect and recognition that Health Visitors have, then things might have been different. Without an increase in numbers however, we are unable to get out and do what we have been trained to do. As every caring nurse can imagine, this is very frustrating....

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Natalie Jewell

    This doesn't surprise me at all - I have worked in the secondary school I cover for 7 years (as well as my primary schools and covering other roles). Last week another borough informed my child protection team about a child in my secondary school stating that a school staff member had told her there was no school nurse. If we don't even have time for the staff to learn who we are how are we going to get near the students?!

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