Advice for school nurses over redeployment for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Safeguarding children must take priority, says head of school nurses association

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Safeguarding of children must be given priority when planning redeployment of school nurses to support the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, the leader of their professional organisation says.

School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) chief executive Sharon White told Nursing Standard that some of the association’s members are raising concerns about being asked to redeploy or told they will be redeployed, though she was unable to give a figure for how many school nurses had been shifted away from their usual role.

Safeguarding and mental health challenges for school nurses

She said her advice to school nurses was that if they are approached about redeployment by NHS providers, they should discuss this request with their public health local commissioner. ‘(NHS) Providers cannot decide to just take you off your job.’

A commissioner might agree to redeployment or might refuse, because safeguarding children and addressing the mental health issues many are facing as a result of COVID-19 and the disruption to schooling are just as vital as working on the vaccination front line, she said.

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In October 2020, Public Health England, the NHS and the Local Government Association wrote a joint letter to directors of nursing that said school nurses, among others, should not be redeployed, and support for children and families must be a priority.

The letter said: ‘We advise that professionals supporting children and families, such as health visitors, school nurses, designated safeguarding officers and nurses supporting children with special educational needs should not be redeployed to other services and should be supported to provide services in pregnancy, early years (0-19) and to the most vulnerable families.’

Risk assessments to cover safeguarding emergencies

However, Ms White said school nurses are being asked to be flexible at local level. ‘Although the letter still stands, what I do know is that lots of school nurses are being redeployed to support COVID vaccinations.’

While stressing that there is not enough capacity for large-scale redeployment of school nurses, Ms White says in some cases these staff may be able to support the vaccine roll-out after undertaking risk assessments and ensuring safeguarding emergencies can be covered.

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