The lack of school nurses is creating an "escalating health crisis" among pupils, a nursing union warned this morning.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) argues that school nurses have a unique opportunity to help address issues facing children's health, including the problem of obesity – one in three children in the UK are overweight, and one in five are classed as obese.
But the union is alarmed that despite steadily growing numbers of pupils, there has been a decrease in the number of school nurses since 2010. And it fears the situation is about to get worse in the wake of £200 million of cuts to public health budgets in England.
At it annual school nurses conference today, the RCN will warn that local authorities in London, Staffordshire, Middlesbrough and Derbyshire are already considering cuts to funding for school nurses to plug gaps in other areas of public health.
Meanwhile Health Education England has predicted a 24 per cent vacancy rate for school nurses.
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 that school nurses tackle on a daily basis, from conditions such as epilepsy to behavioural disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"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 building a healthy and prosperous future population."
To bolster its case for more school nurses, the union is citing a recent government report that suggests five more children under 14 die every day in the UK than in Sweden.