UK Nursing
RCN Survey Exposes School Nurse Numbers Crisis
Apr 28, 2005 - 12:44:38 PM

The next government needs to double the number of school nurses to ensure every child has access to a school nurse, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN ). New research commissioned by the RCN shows on average a school nurse in the state sector covers at least ten schools, caring for an average of 2,400 pupils. This means less than 3000 school nurses cover the UK, amounting to just 4.5 school nurses per constituency.

Over 1200 school nurses from across the UK responded to the survey, the largest and most comprehensive of this sector to date. Only 17% of respondents felt that there were enough school nurses in their area. For nurses working in the state sector this figure drops to 10%. Nearly two-thirds of the survey also thought that their workload was too heavy.

Alongside dissatisfaction with the number of school nurses, nearly two-thirds of respondents were unhappy with the resources available to them. Over half felt that they were 'stretched too thinly', and unable to provide a good enough service to pupils due to workload pressures and lack of staff. More than three-quarters felt that they were not paid well enough for the demands and responsibilities of the job. The lack of career progression was an issue for 75% of people, and almost a quarter were unable to take time off to undergo further training. Many also faced difficulties getting funding for training.

Dr Beverly Malone, General Secretary of the RCN, said: "It's clear from our survey just how few school nurses we have. We know that in many parts of the UK children do not have access to an adequate school nurse service, and this is simply unacceptable. School nurses do a wonderful job under difficult circumstances.

"School nurses of today are not just about sick bays and nits. Their job covers a gamut of responsibilities from immunisation, health promotion and child protection through to counselling, sexual health and drugs education. They also play an important role in social inclusion such as working with children with special needs, and promoting educational attainment."

The public sector employs three-quarters of those surveyed with a quarter in the private sector. Nurses in this field are very experienced with nearly half of respondents working ten years or more as a school nurse. The average age of respondents was 47, and less than 3% described themselves as being black or minority ethnic.

The RCN survey has also highlighted the school nurses' pivotal role as a key link with other health professionals and social agencies. Nearly a third had weekly contact with child protection co-ordinators and 81% of the respondents attend child protection case conferences. Most have regular contact with health visitors, social services, A&E paediatric liaison nurses and special educational needs coordinators.

Despite dissatisfaction with issues such as staffing levels, many of the respondents cited the positive impact their work has on schoolchildren. A large number cited the major improvement in children's health and lifestyles and the level of uptake of their services in schools as examples.

Beverly Malone added: "We are calling on the next government to strengthen the role of the school nurse, and develop a clear strategy to double their numbers and make funding available for every school nurse to have the opportunity to access specialist training. We also need the next government to make a concerted effort to increase the number of black and minority ethnic school nurses to better reflect the school population."

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