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School nursing is in crisis

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This week the Local Government Association expressed concerns about the growing incidence of sexually transmitted infection among teenagers and young adults.

It highlighted that the number of STI diagnoses increases rapidly once young people leave school, with 141,060 new diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in 2015, compared with 78,066 for those aged 15-19. These figures not only have implications for the health of the young people involved but have a huge impact on public health budgets, with around £600 million spent on sexual health annually.

The LGA has called for compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools – including academies, which are currently exempt. However, it did not mention the school nursing service.

 

Surely school nurses are the ideal professionals to provide this education?

“School nursing has faced ongoing budget cuts, falling numbers and rising demands”

Perhaps the reason for this omission is the escalating crisis in school nursing, which has experienced ongoing budget cuts, falling numbers and rising demands.

Over 18 months ago the Royal College of Nursing warned of an escalating health crisis among children and young people because of insufficient investment in school nursing. At that time there was estimated to be 3,053 full-time equivalent school nurses employed by the NHS to serve 8.4 million pupils.

In September 2016, the National Children’s Bureau reported that school nurses were struggling to support children and young people with long-term conditions because of increasing workload. At that time, it estimated that the number of school nurses was as low as 2,606 and that 40% were providing a service across as many as 10 schools.

I can’t image how you begin to do this.

If we are serious about improving public health then we have to make a start in schools. The issue with STIs among young people is worrying, but we also have a growing crisis in child mental health, issues with childhood obesity and problems with child exploitation and bullying and we can’t look at any of these concerns in isolation. We need to be able to assess the whole child and support children in managing the complex interplay between physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

“School nurses have to be applauded for their work”

School nurses have to be applauded for their work. They have been at the forefront of developing time-saving initiatives to keep in touch with pupils, such as texting and telephone consultations. However, these only make a dent in their ever-expanding workload.

School nursing is an essential part of public health. Perhaps these STI figures are a wakeup call that we need to proactively address the holistic health and wellbeing of our young people and treat school nursing as seriously as it deserves. If we are to effectively tackle the mounting problem of child health and avoid future long-term health problems we need investment in a comprehensive integrated school service now.

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