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A report has warned of an escalating health crisis among young children due to insufficient investment in school nursing, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
While health problems facing children continue to accelerate, school nurses are at risk of further depletion following £2m cuts to public health budgets in England.
Professional lead for Children and Young People’s Nursing at the RCN, Fiona Smith, said: “School nurses play a critical role in the health of our young children yet their work is so often overlooked and undervalued.”
Despite the steady rise in the increase of school pupils, the report has found that there has been a decrease in school nurses since 2010. There are currently more than 8.4 million young children attending 24,317 schools – yet the number of school nurses has fallen to just 3,053, who are employed by the National Health Service (NHS).
The report found that authorities in London, Staffordshire and Derbyshire are already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health, while Health Education England have predicted a worrying 24 per cent vacancy rate in school nursing.
School nurses have a unique opportunity to work closely with children, as well as their parents and teachers, to improve some of the key issues facing children’s health.
NHS statistics have revealed that one in three young children in the UK are now overweight, and one in five are obese.
Similarly, the Children’s Society Good Childhood Report, published in 2015, placed the UK in the lower quartile of an international survey of children’s happiness, having revealed that one in ten pupils currently live with a mental disability, while 15.4 per cent of younger pupils have been identified as having special educational needs (equating to 1,301,445 pupils).
The report has revealed that school nurses are essential in educating children and their families about these issues, while providing support and care for those in need. Yet, without sufficient time and funding, they are unable to fulfil their ability to improve these escalating problems.
At the annual RCN School Nurses Conference, experts from across the UK will emphasise the critical importance of school nurses in improving the health of children in this country.
Ms Smith continued: “The conference illustrates the wide range of issues school nurses tackle on a daily basis, from conditions such as epilepsy to behavioural disorders like ADHD. They are talented, multi-skilled nursing staff who deserve immense recognition.
“Unlike any other health professional, school nurses work with children and education staff on a daily basis. However, investment is fundamental if we are to begin solving this crisis in young children’s health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.”