The Royal College of Nursing has warned that falling numbers of school nurses may be putting vulnerable children at risk from sexual assault, ahead of a key meeting of the profession.
Figures revealed today at the RCN School Nurses Conference in London show that the number of NHS school nursing posts has plummeted by 13% since 2010 to just 2,606.
“School nurses are there for all children and young people”
The college highlighted that school nurses played a key role in delivering essential sex and relationships education (SRE) and safeguarding children against sexual exploitation and abuse.
Without it, children and young people were at risk from sexual exploitation and assault to mental health problems and sexual infection, said the college, with those in care at particularly more risk.
It highlighted a recent investigation that found there were 5,500 sexual assaults in the school environment during a three-year period, including one rape nearly every school day.
Meanwhile, it quoted a union survey that suggested as many as half of students learnt about sex through watching porn, while two thirds received no information about consent in their SRE lessons.
The RCN said it was calling for the government to secure school nursing roles to help deliver effective SRE for all children and young people.
Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “School nurses are there for all children and young people, providing support, encouraging healthy lifestyles and protecting those who are most vulnerable.
“They have the training and expertise to really drive forward effective SRE in schools,” she said. “However, with numbers dropping all the time, school nurses simply don’t have the capacity to follow this through.
“The government should be prioritising this expertise – not cutting the roles when we need them most,” said Ms Smith.
She added: “The RCN supports the call for compulsory SRE in all schools, but we need the workforce that can deliver this crucial aim and make sure all children and young people are safe and healthy.”