Plan to make school nurses more accessible to pupils

image captionSchool nurses work with children from the age of five up to 19 years

Pupils in England should have better access to their school nurses and be able to text them to make an appointment, the government says.

Under a plan to improve health in schools, it says nurses must also improve the way they respond to pupils' complex emotional and learning needs.

Ministers consulted 300 young people when drawing up the plans.

The Royal College of Nursing, which represents school nurses, said more nurses were needed on the ground.

The plan, announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, says school nurses have a crucial role to play in looking after the health of children and young people.

Pupils too often find it hard to see school nurses because they do not know how to make appointments or they are too embarrassed to ask for an appointment through a teacher, the plan says.

Using technology such as text messaging, emails and mobile phone apps to contact their school nurse could be used to overcome these problems, it suggests.

Sharon White, professional officer at the School and Public Health Nurses Association, said school nurses had a special role as they are the only health professionals that work with five to 19-year-olds.

Although every child is entitled to receive a school nursing service, not every school has a dedicated school nurse, and more should be commissioned to work in more schools, she said.

Speaking up

Some nurses work across 10 to 12 schools in the state sector. Other schools may employ their own school nurses and some will have nurses commissioned by the local Primary Care Trust.

The independent school sector provides their own school nurses.

Mr Lansley said the key to the new plan was communication.

"We want young people to be able to speak to their school nurses more often so they get sound health advice," he said.

"School nurses are hugely important. They can give young people advice on all aspects of health care. We're going to work with school pupils to look at more innovative ways to get advice and support from school nurses."

Viv Bennett, director of nursing at the Department of Health, said it had listened to the views of families, young people and school nurses.

Three hundred young people have offered to become "school nurse champions" and help shape the way the new school nursing plan is implemented.

She said: "We are updating the plan in response to their views. They wanted to make school nursing more accessible and confidential, more 'in sync with the way we live our lives', they told us."

She said services had to be offered where and when they were needed, which could be at school but also at a drop-in centre in a local park, for example.

But she said that school nurses would still provide the same basic services as before, such as injections, height and weight measurements and advice on smoking, obesity and teenage pregnancy.

Liam Preston, chairman of the British Youth Council, which provided feedback from young people, said too many young people were missing out on help from their school nurse.

"Young people's voices need to continue to be heard following the launch of the school nursing strategy to ensure school nursing teams can use their skills and experience to make the maximum impact on improving youth health."

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