School nurse shortage threatens education for seriously ill children

Together for Short Lives has expressed its concern at reported cuts to school nursing which are likely to have a negative impact on the access which seriously ill children and young people have to education. The charity has called on the government, local councils, Health Education England, universities and the Council of Deans to work together to make sure that there are enough school nurses with the skills needed to care for these vulnerable children and young people in education settings.

Figures cited by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today show that the number of school nurses has fallen to just 3,053 employed by the NHS since 2010. They highlight that Health Education England has predicted a 24% vacancy rate in this area. The shortage could be further compounded by £200m cuts to public health budgets in England.

School nurses are a critical component of the palliative care offer for children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. They:

  • are responsible for notifying the school when a child has been identified as having a medical condition which will require support in school
  • can support staff on implementing a child’s individual healthcare plan and provide advice and liaison, for example on training
  • can liaise with lead clinicians locally on appropriate support for the child, in addition to other organisations and professionals caring for them.

Katrina McNamara, Director of Practice and Service Development at Together for Short Lives said:

“Children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions have a right to access education. It is incredibly important in helping them to achieve the outcomes they want from their lives. School nurses play a sensitive, supportive and integral role in making that happen and so the gaps, highlighted today by the Royal College of Nursing, in this important workforce are very worrying.

“In the UK, one child in every 270 has a life-limiting or life-threatening condition - that’s one in every school. It is vital that national and local government, education providers and other agencies work together to make sure that there are enough school nurses for every seriously ill child in education who needs one. These children have a right to be supported throughout their education.

Together for Short Lives offers a free resource for nurseries, schools and colleges to help them in ensuring that education is accessible to children and young people who need palliative care. This resource has been developed by education professionals and sets out the important role that school nurses play, alongside other professionals. As schools and further education institutions return for the new academic year, we urge them to use this free resource.


  • J L McDonnell 27 August 2016, 21:16

    I have been employed within my community trust as the lead for children's palliative care and have another nurse working along side. I am hoping to develop my team further to ensure all children and families get the right support

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