School nurse drop-ins cut for three months amid recruitment crisis
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Suffolk County Council axed its school nurse drop-in sessions at both primary and secondary schools for more than three months as a result of a severe shortage, it has emerged.
A report prepared ahead of the council’s health scrutiny next Wednesday revealed that Suffolk had been struggling to recruit school nurses, which was a reflection of national shortages.
It had previously pledged funding for five new school nurses – but with training taking two years, the new recruits do not start until September, leaving resources stretched.
The report confirmed that because of the shortage it had “temporarily adjusted” its school nursing provision, which meant that weekly drop-in sessions at high schools and termly drop-in meetings at primary schools had been cut.
According to the documents, analysis suggested the number of people attending the sessions was “very low”.
But a county council spokeswoman said they would start again soon.
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“School nursing drop-in sessions in high and middle schools, will be reinstated this month following a review of the decision to temporarily suspend them from September,” she said.
“The service was reinstated due to an increase in referrals to the school nurses and the need to have follow up face to face contact with young people who had conversations with the school nurses via ChatHealth [a text-message based welfare service].”
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The council said its use of ChatHealth had regularly been hailed as one of the top five users of the system in the country by the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.
Since Suffolk launched it in November 2015, around 6,700 text messages had been received.
But the council’s opposition Labour group branded the authority’s decision to cut the drop-in sessions as “outrageous”.
Councillor Helen Armitage, Labour spokesman for health and social care, said: “It has already been diminished to a point where only those most desperately in need are able to access it but now even those children and young people will be denied help.
“The administration clearly fails to understand what the service means to these young people and their carers, and the effect that removing it will have on them.
“This creates a two-tier system where those who can afford to pay for private counselling do to avoid the long waits for help, but this option is not available for most families.
“The needs of the children using the service are varied but my experience working with children who visit the school nurses, has demonstrated the difference this time makes for them.”
She added: “I’m very worried for the future of these young people, we all know the importance of talking through problems as a way of relieving anxiety and stress; if this is opportunity for talk is taken away, what impact will it have on these young people’s education and social development?”