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School nurses have been warned to expect a surge in the number of text messages they receive from pupils this term. The Department of Health is encouraging every child in secondary school to get to know their school's nurse, and has produced publicity materials to help make this a reality.
The government's motives are to be commended. Since taking office, health secretary Andrew Lansley and public health minister Anne Milton, a former nurse, have stressed the importance of improving public health. And where better to start than with the nation's young people?
The publicity drive that is being launched this term is based on research undertaken involving children of all ages and their parents. As a result, 11-18 year olds are being encouraged to speak to nurses in confidence about immunisations, weight management, sexual health, drugs and alcohol, and smoking. 'We want to make it easier for young people to use the school nursing service and get good health advice,' Ms Milton said. 'One of the keys to this is making pupils aware of what school nurses can do for them and how to find them.'
The RCN welcomed the initiative - who could argue against it? - but with a rather obvious caveat: there are not enough resources in place to deliver the service that ministers describe. School nursing staff are already overstretched, and no new money is being made available, so there is every chance that ministers' fine words will turn out to be empty rhetoric.
School nurses have struggled for years to be recognised as highly skilled healthcare professionals, with some local education authorities and head teachers underestimating their potential. This has been reflected in a lack of funding.
The government's school nursing strategy, published in March, and the publicity drive launched last week are therefore welcome, if overdue. But nurses would be more likely to believe that ministers are serious about the nation's long-term health prospects if money was not being wasted on yet another NHS reorganisation, when it could be invested in children's wellbeing.
Editorial | September 5 2012 | Volume 27 Number 1
Nursing Standard is published every Wednesday by RCN Publishing Company Ltd, the publishing company of the Royal College of Nursing.
It seeks to promote professional excellence, and encourage creativity and innovation in nursing, midwifery and health visiting practice. Nursing Standard also aims to enhance nurses' and healthcare assistants' career development and to help them achieve and maintain a healthy and rewarding working environment. Nursing Standard is editorially independent and the opinions expressed are not those of the RCN or of the contributor's employing organisation unless specifically stated.