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School nurse cuts threaten children's health

Cuts to public health funding, health visitors and school nurses put health at risk, warns RCN

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Cuts to public health funding and to the number of health visitors and school nurses are jeopardising the health of children in England, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

In its latest report, the RCN found that the transfer of public health responsibility from the NHS to local authorities, at the same time as their funds have plummeted, could be allowing vulnerable children to 'fall through the cracks'.

In The best start: the future of children's health, the RCN points out that school nurses and health visitors are at the forefront of providing care to children and young people – promoting healthy mental and physical development, safeguarding vulnerable children and providing a critical link between school, home and the community. But the RCN says there has been a significant decline in the number of school nurses and an emerging trend of reductions in the health visiting workforce. It said cuts to these crucial health services are endangering the health of England's children and young people.

The college found that while the number of school-age pupils rose by more than 450,000 between 2010 and 2017, during that same period there was a 16% drop in full-time school nurses. It also revealed that since 2015, when there were more than 10,000 health visitors in the NHS, their numbers have fallen by 1,000.

The RCN reported that despite the essential role of health visitors and school nurses, the services have borne the brunt of the government's £200m cuts to public health since being transferred from the NHS to local authorities. It warned: 'As a result, many vulnerable children may be falling through the cracks.'

It has called on the next government to provide the resources needed for all local authorities to provide strong and effective health visiting and school nursing services for all children. RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: 'Cuts to these critical services risk not only the health of our children, but also the future of our country.

'There's a wealth of evidence that ill health in childhood can have a detrimental impact in adulthood. If these cuts continue, we're heading for more health problems, more inequality and even more pressure on our public services down the line.'

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