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Investment in school nursing vital for children’s mental health

19 Jun 2016

Alison Davies urges vital investment in school nursing in order to help tackle the crisis in children's mental health and wellbeing.

The RCN is calling for urgent investment in school nursing to tackle the crisis in children’s mental health. 

The number of children and young people seeking mental health support in the UK is escalating, with at least three children in every class room now suffering from a mental health problem.  

Only 0.7 per cent of NHS funding is spent on young people’s mental health, and almost a quarter of young people (23%) are being turned away from local mental health services.

School-based care has been suggested as a possible solution, and school nurses are perfectly placed to identify potential problems and initiate early intervention mental health care. However an RCN survey published today (Sunday) shows that without substantial investment in school nursing, it won’t be possible to provide effective mental health support.

The number of school nurses has fallen by 10 per cent since 2010 to only 2700  caring for more than 9 million pupils, and the RCN survey reflects the significant pressure on the current school nursing workforce. 

More than two thirds (68%) of those surveyed said there were insufficient school nursing services in their area to provide the care and support children and young people need.

Seventy per cent said their current workload was too heavy, while more than a quarter (28%) work over their contracted hours every single day. Almost a third (30%) said admin took up most of their time, rather than the direct contact with children needed for mental health advice and support.

Almost 2 out of 5 (39%) said that they had insufficient resources to do their jobs effectively.

The findings show that the current school nursing workforce has neither the staff nor the resources to deliver the support that children and young people need. 

Alison Davies, Associate Director (Professional Practice), said: “School nurses have a fantastic opportunity to make a positive contribution to supporting children and young people in Wales in order to maximise their health and wellbeing.”

“They are highly knowledgeable and skilled practitioners who can provide a range of services that can help ensure any health concerns are identified and managed at an early stage, which in turn helps these young individuals to thrive.”

“These nurses are acutely aware of the factors that can negatively impact on children and young people’s emotional and mental health, as well as the positive influence that support and intervention can have.”

“However, the wide range of health needs associated with the school-aged population in Wales is not matched by the numbers of school nurses; some are responsible for providing a nursing service to such high numbers of school aged children and young people that unfortunately opportunities to prevent or identify early emotional and mental ill health can sometimes be missed.”

“This is unacceptable and we must ensure that the right numbers of nurses are found in these settings if the health and wellbeing of school children in Wales is to be promoted, and their journey into adulthood enhanced.”