School nursing – the same old conundrum, 10 years on

Rosalind Godson

By Ros Godson, Unite professional officer for school nursing, Unite the union (in the health sector)

Another year and another government pronouncement on school nursing – this time from children’s health minister, Dr Dan Poulter saying that school nurses will play “a bigger and more important role” in improving the health of children and young people.

While this is all very admirable, it raises the same old conundrum that has dogged the school nursing profession for the last decade.

Ministers of all political hues praise the work that school nurses do for the nation’s eight million school-aged children, but when it comes to extra money to employ more school nurses, there seems to be a deafening silence.

It is always someone else’s responsibility to find the money whether it is NHS trusts and now, from 1 April, local government which holds the public health purse strings.

Our school nurse members are already on their metaphorical knees through stress and exhaustion caused by ever increasing workloads.

It was as long ago as 2004 that the then chief nursing officer (CNO) for England, Sarah Mullally  produced the chief nursing officer’s review of the nursing, midwifery and health visiting contribution to vulnerable children and young people putting school nurses centre stage in terms of children’s health.

The latest NHS workforce figures show 1,218 whole time equivalent school nurses in England which is not remotely enough for 8.2 million school aged children.

There are about 3,250 secondary schools, and 16,884 primary schools, as well as nearly 1,000 special schools and 400 pupil referral units.

The time has ended for ministerial admiration for school nurses via press release and for Dr Dan to put the government’s money – preferably ring fenced - where his mouth is, so that 2,000 more school nurses can be employed.