A survey by the Royal College of Nursing has revealed significant pressure on the current school nurse workforce.
The RCN said its findings showed that the current school nursing workforce had neither the staff nor the resources to deliver the support that children and young people need.
“Only by investing in school nursing and wider mental health services, can this crisis be tackled”
More than two thirds of the 277 nurses surveyed said there were insufficient school nursing services in their area to provide the care and support children and young people need.
In addition, 70% said their current workload was too heavy, while more than a quarter (28%) work over their contracted hours every single day. Almost a third (30%) said admin took up most of their time and 39% said that they had insufficient resources to do their jobs effectively.
On the back of the survey, which was carried out between March and April this year, the RCN is calling for urgent investment in school nursing to tackle a crisis in children’s mental health.
It cited figures suggesting that at least three children in every class room was now suffering from a mental health problem.
The college said school-based care had been suggested as a possible solution and school nurses were perfectly placed to identify potential problems and initiate early intervention mental health care.
“These nurses are acutely aware of the factors that can negatively impact on children”
However, it warned that its survey showed that without substantial investment in school nursing, it would be impossible to provide effective mental health support.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “School nurses have the skills and the experience to provide a wide range of mental health support, from counselling to promoting healthy lifestyles. But, as our survey shows, there are too few of them, and they are simply too stretched.
“All children deserve access to the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” she said. “Only by investing in school nursing and wider mental health services, can this crisis be tackled and children be given the best chance possible of leading happy and healthy lives.”
Alison Davies, RCN Wales associate director for professional practice, added: “School nurses have a fantastic opportunity to make a positive contribution to supporting children and young people.
“They are highly knowledgeable and skilled practitioners who can provide a range of services that can help ensure any health concerns are identified and managed at an early stage, which in turn helps these young individuals to thrive,” said Ms Davies.
She said: “These nurses are acutely aware of the factors that can negatively impact on children and young people’s emotional and mental health, as well as the positive influence that support and intervention can have.”
The number of school nurses has fallen in England by 10% since 2010 to only 2,700 caring for more than nine million pupils.