The nursing union has warned of an “escalating health crisis” among children due to a lack of school nurses.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said school nurses have a unique opportunity to help improve some of the key issues facing children’s health - particularly the huge problem of obesity with one in three children in the UK overweight, and one in five classed as obese.
Citing a recent Government report suggesting there are five more children under 14 who died every day in the UK than Sweden, the union said while health problems facing children continue to accelerate, school nurses are at risk of further depletion following £200 million cuts to public health budgets in England.
Despite steadily growing numbers of school pupils, figures have shown a decrease in school nurses since 2010.
The RCN said they should plainly have been increasing during this time.
There are now more than 8.4 million pupils attending 24,300 schools in England, with almost 94,000 more children in primary schools than there were a year ago - a 2.1 per cent increase.
At the annual RCN School Nurses Conference today, experts from across the UK will emphasise the critical importance of school nurses in improving the health of the nation’s children.
It warned that Health Education England has also predicted a 24 per cent vacancy rate in this area of nursing.
Local authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire are already considering cuts to school nurse funding to plug gaps in other areas of public health, it said.
They will say that by working closely with children as well as their parents and teachers, nurses can also have an important role in helping pupils with their mental and emotional health.
One in 10 pupils suffer from a mental disorder and the Children’s Society Good Childhood Report 2015 placed the UK almost bottom in an international survey of children’s happiness, the RCN said.
Many of the six per cent of children who have a disability could also benefit from a school nurse, while it said 15.4 per cent of pupils in schools in England have identified special educational needs, equating to 1.3 million pupils.
Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, said: “School nurses play a critical role in the health of our children yet their work is so often overlooked - and undervalued.
“Today’s conference illustrates the wide range of issues school nurses tackle on a daily basis, from conditions such as epilepsy to behavioural disorders like ADHD.
“They are talented, multi-skilled nursing staff who deserve immense recognition. Unlike any other health professional, school nurses work with children and education staff on a daily basis.
“However, investment is fundamental if we are to begin solving this crisis in children’s health and build a healthy and prosperous future population.”
Last month, the RCN warned that childhood obesity, smoking and alcohol misuse could soar as a result of the Government’s planned £200m “stealth” cuts to public health budgets.
The union said more people will become ill from preventable or manageable conditions because of the move “quietly” announced by Chancellor George Osborne.
The cuts will see money slashed from council budgets leading to fears this will jeopardise vital services such as obesity prevention, stop smoking schemes and alcohol misuse programmes.