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Every school should have a nurse

Tagged In:  Nursing

With 10% of children aged 5-16 having significant mental health issues and 75% of them not getting the treatment they need, the role of the school nurse has never been more important.

In a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, the President of the Girls' Schools Association, Charlotte Avery, called for 'every school in the UK to have its own nurse if we are to establish and protect the mental wellbeing of pupils'. 

According to Public Health England, 50% of those with lifetime mental illness (excluding dementia) will experience symptoms by the age of 14. However, only 25% of them get the treatment they need.

In January, the State of Child Health report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) highlighted the vital role that health visitors and school nurses play in early identification and intervention, preventing more serious problems later in life. This is endorsed by Charlotte Avery: "Not only are nurses uniquely qualified to spot early warning signs of mental ill health, but they are also able to offer a different sort of relationship to teachers." 

The House of Commons Health Committee (in association with the Education Committee) has launched an enquiry into the role of education in promoting emotional wellbeing in children and preventing the development of mental health problems. "Lack of timely help means that young people can sometimes only access help when they have become seriously unwell," said the Committee's Chair Doctor Sarah Wollaston. "Young people told us that they wanted services to be available within schools."

School nurses also have an important role to play in sex and relationships education, which the Government recently announced would become compulsory in all schools in England by 2019. "Sex and relationships education can equip children and young people with the tools to interpret what are often conflicting messages, and make them aware of the help and support available, " commented Fiona Smith, Professional Lead for Children and Young people's Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), "With comprehensive training and expertise, school nurses are primed to lead this type of education."

While this doesn’t imply they will need the full training of a Community Psychiatric Nurse, this new generation of child health professionals will go some way beyond their Paediatric Nurse roots, as they take more of a role as a frontline CAMHS practitioner.

In North Yorkshire, the local NHS and County Council have recently launched a new School Mental Health and Wellbeing service. The aim is to support the development of a whole-school approach by delivering training to school staff and key partners. The service will be employing a new team of wellbeing workers to work in close collaboration with key partners from the Prevention Service, Healthy Child Team, specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and a team of community nurses.

"In 2015 a government document called 'Future in Mind' was published which described a commitment to transform services that work with children and young people by 2020, " said Janet Probert, Chief Officer of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), “We’re now at the very forefront of these plans."

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