Insufficient investment in school nursing is having a detrimental impact on children and young people, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.
Despite the fact that the number of school pupils have steadily increased, figures have shown that the number of school nurses has decreased since 2010. There are currently more than 8.4 million pupils attending 24,317 schools, yet the number of school nurses employed by the NHS has fallen to just 3053. Health Education England has predicted a worrying 24% vacancy rate in this area of nursing.
Following the £2 million budget cuts to public health budgets in local authorities in England, announced by chancellor George Osborne in June 2015, experts have raised concerns that the school nursing workforce is in danger of further depletion.
Authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire are already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health.
Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people's nursing at the RCN, commented: '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 children's health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.'
School nurses have a key role to play in some of the most pressing health concerns in children and young people such as obesity, mental health and learning difficulties. They can work with parents and other school staff to educate them about this issues and provide support and care for those in need.
At the RCN's annual school nursing conference today, experts from across the UK will emphasise the critical importance of school nurses in improving the health of children in this country.