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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 02:47 GMT
Pressures take toll on school nurses
Syringe
Many nurses had to switch priorities during the campaign
The work of school nurses is being compromised by the enormous pressures created by the meningitis C immunisation campaign, it has been claimed.

With sex education a key element of the nurses' job, a rise in teenage pregnancies is now feared.

The programme, which ran from 1999-2000, had the knock-on effect of forcing school nurses to drastically reduce or suspend vital on-going work caring for children, according to a report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).


It will be interesting to see if the teenage pregnancy rate increases in a few years time

Judy McRae, Royal College of Nursing
More than three quarters of those questioned said on-going work had been affected "considerably" or "had been taken over completely" by the immunisation programme.

The findings show that 59% had completely suspended their work monitoring children on the child protection register.

A further 39% said their work in this area had been affected "a lot" and just 2% said this work had only been affected "a little".

Sickness absence

Chair of the RCN School Nursing Forum Judy McRae said: "Some school nurses were told not to attend child protection conferences for the duration of the campaign and many are still trying to catch up with their workload in this vital area."

The school nurse's role is multi faceted and beyond child protection, includes health assessment, mental health promotion and sex education.

Ms McRae said: "It will be interesting to see if the teenage pregnancy rate increases in a few years time.

"Nobody is questioning the need for the Meningitis C campaign and overall, despite the difficulties, school nurses were unanimous in their support of the programme and were glad to be in a position to potentially save children's lives.

"But the effect on workloads meant that many school nurses suffered increasing levels of stress, sickness and RSI-type arm injuries as a result of the repetitive work associated with mass immunisations."

Improvements

The conclusions are based on the accounts of 145 staff across the UK.

The RCN said while some health authorities managed the campaign well, others had not.

The Department of Health (DoH) had announced a 9m package for the campaign which began in September 1999, but the RCN says most of the money did not filter through until the following July.

The RCN says lessons can be learned from the study and it has devised a set of recommendations:-

  • practising school nurses must be invited to participate in the initial planning alongside civil servants and government advisers
  • health care providers should ensure they have a practising school nurse and a school nurse leader/manager involved in the strategic planning of the campaign at local level
  • health care providers are given the opportunity to brief staff before the campaign is launched by the government to the media
  • further research should be undertaken into the effects of mass immunisation campaigns on the health and safety of nursing staff

  • See also:

    03 Jan 01 | Health
    Brain disease 'wiped out'
    03 Jan 01 | Health
    Q&A: Meningitis vaccine success
    31 Jan 00 | Health
    The meningitis files
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