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School nurse shortages ‘concerning’ due to role in HPV vaccine uptake, report warns 

Falling numbers of nurses and health visitors working in schools is particularly ‘concerning’ as they help protect children against cancer, a new report from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has warned.  

Nurses in schools encourage young people to take up the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cancers caused by HPV - including the majority of cervical cancers and some cancers of the mouth, throat, anal and genital areas. 

They also provide young people with ‘vital’ education including supporting relationships and sex education, as well as providing general health advice to many young people, stated the report, entitled ‘Better for Women'. 

It went on to suggest that the reduction in numbers of nurses and health visitors in schools across England - from around 3,000 in 2010 to 2,800 in 2018 - should ‘be reversed’ along with ‘greater investment’ in school nurses.  

Meanwhile, a RCOG survey of over 3,000 women found that 37% of women are unable to access contraception services and 60% of women cannot access unplanned pregnancy services, including abortion care locally. 

Plus, only half of women are able to access sexually transmitted infections services and 56% of women are unable to seek help for menstrual health issues, such as for heavy/painful periods, locally. 

Just over half of women (58%) cannot access menopause services.  

To help improve this, better joined-up services for women’s health across the life span and more emphasis on prevention was needed, the report concluded. This should include improving relationships and sex education (RSE), which school nurses ‘play an important role in’. 

As part of this, the report also recommended: 

  • Easy access to contraception, abortion and fertility services 

  • NHS-led women’s health strategies to focus on a preventative model of healthcare, rather than the current disease intervention service 

  • The NHS UK website should become the best source of information for girls, women and clinicians 

  • All young people to be educated from an early age about women’s health 

  • Women’s health issues, such as the menopause, to be embedded in workplace policies 

  • Prevention of deaths from gynaecological cancers across the life-course 

Professor Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said that it is time for ‘a new and bold approach to transform women’s health services’. 

She continued: ‘Many of the barriers to access to women’s healthcare services can be improved by ensuring services are joined up and more responsive to the needs of girls and women. It is important we provide a comprehensive health service for girls and women throughout their lives. We want to empower 51% of the population to be as healthy as possible and ensure no one is left behind. 

‘This doesn’t need to come at a great financial cost to the NHS. In fact, we believe we can do better for less.’ 

The HPV vaccine was made available to all 12- and 13-year-olds in year 8 from September 2019. 

The Department for Education has also announced that relationships education (RE) for primary pupils and RSE for secondary pupils will become compulsory from September 2020