The decline in school nurses may be putting vulnerable children at risk the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.
Figures launched at the RCN's School Nurses Conference on 25 August show that that number of school nursing posts has plummeted by 13% since 2012 to just 2606 now left in the NHS.
However, a recent investigation found that there were 5500 sexual assaults in the school environment during a three-year period, including one rape nearly every school day. A survey by the NUS suggested that half of students learned about sex through porn, while two thirds received no information about consent in sexual and relationship education (SRE) lessons at school.
Ongoing staff cuts to the school nursing service means that they are unable to work with schools to provide effective education for pupils. Without this education, children and young people are at risk from sexual exploitation and assault, mental health problems and sexual infection.
'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. However, with numbers dropping all the time, school nurses simply don’t have the capacity to follow this through,' says Fiona Smith, the professional lead for children and young people's nursing at the RCN.
She added that the government should be prioritising this expertise – not cutting the roles. '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.'