Greens want nurses in low decile schools

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 11:06 02/06/2013

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The Greens want to install nurses in every low decile primary and intermediate school to tackle poverty-related illness.

Co-leader Metiria Turei says the $30 million-a-year proposal will give around 112,000 children access to basic health care services. Almost 300 new nurses would be required to staff around 656 schools - with one nurse to every 400 students.

The anti-poverty plan follows the breakfast-in-schools policy the government announced last week to feed hungry pupils. 

Poorer children are less likely to have access to care because of the costs of getting to a surgery and seeing a doctor, especially when they turn six, Turei said.

At the party's annual conference in Christchurch this morning, she pointed to a "major major gap" in the provision of health services to primary school age children. Those in deprived areas are three times as likely to be admitted to hospital for preventable illnesses.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisationrecommended the policy in its submission to the Government’s Green Paper on Vulnerable Children. , NZEI and anti poverty groups are also backing the move, a party spokesman said. 

“We know that poverty, ill health and educational underachievement go hand in hand,” Turei said.

“Kids in the lowest decile schools are the least likely to get the medical attention that they need to stay well and do their best at school."

Although the dedicated public health nurses are not a substitute for doctors, they can help with sore throats, skin infections, and asthma.

The nurses would not be funded out of schools' operating budgets. They would work in every decile 1-3 school. There would be enough for one nurse per large urban school, and smaller schools would share a nurse.

Funding would be allocated to district health boards. It would cost $17m to pay the nurses an average salary of $60,000 a year. The party says 20 per cent of new graduate nurses are unable to find work, so there is capacity in the system.

However, the school nurse positions would be sought by more experience nurses.

Another $10m of the funding would cover the approximately $90 in medical costs per child and $3m would take care of admin.

The Greens say the health care profession would need to be involved in the development of professional practice for the programme.

GOVERNMENT REACTION

Health minister Tony Ryall said the Greens are "behind the eight ball" with the policy.

"It is already happening," he said.

"We already have public health nurses spending significant time in low decile primary schools around the country. This is funded through DHBs." He said there will also be social workers in all 670 low decile primary schools by end of next term.

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"The combination of nurses and social workers in schools has proven very effective.

And we are rolling out extra nurses into decile 3 high schools. An extra 47 onto the existing 135 low decile secondaries.''

WHAT THE NURSES WOULD DO

* follow up on medical condition identified in B4 schools checks

* regular health assessments for all children - and their siblings, where appropriate

* providing first aid or for illness

* issuing some medicines for children and families eg for skin ailments

* writing prescriptions for a limited range of medicines, such as antibiotics

* following up with family to ensure children go to GP, dentist or specialist hen needed

* community health and wellbeing education

- Fairfax Media

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