An escalating health crisis is developing among children and young people because of insufficient investment in school nursing, Royal College of Nursing has claimed.
Despite steadily growing numbers of school pupils, official figures have shown a decrease in school nurses since 2010, said the college.
“School nurses play a critical role in the health of our children yet their work is so often overlooked”
It highlighted that, according to Department of Education figures, there were currently more than 8.4 million pupils attending 24,317 schools.
However, it said latest data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed there were just 3,053 full-time equivalent school nurses employed by the NHS.
It added that school nursing was also at risk of further depletion from proposals to cut £2m from public health budgets in England.
The RCN said local authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire were already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health.
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Meanwhile, the college cited research published earlier this month showing that five more children die per day in the UK than in Sweden as evidence of the need to invest in school nursing.
The warning from the RCN was timed to coincide with its annual school nurses conference, which is taking place in London today.
School nurses have a “unique opportunity” to improve some of the key issues facing children’s health, such as obesity, mental and emotional health, and disability, said the college.
School nurses are essential in educating children and their families about these issues, while providing support
Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, said: “School nurses play a critical role in the health of our children yet their work is so often overlooked – and undervalued.
“They are talented, multi-skilled nursing staff who deserve immense recognition,” said Ms Smith.
“Unlike any other health professional, school nurses work with children and education staff on a daily basis,” she said.
“However, investment is fundamental if we are to begin solving this crisis in children’s health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.”