A school nursing group is aghast that state-funded school health services in poor areas are to be reviewed, after previous evaluations confirmed their importance in improving teenagers' access to health care and advice.
Health Minister Tony Ryall's office confirmed yesterday he was commissioning a review of the Government's $5.6 million a year health services in decile 1 and 2 high schools, teen parent units and alternative schools.
Auckland School Nurses Group president Phillipa Bennetts said cutting the programme's funding would be a backward step.
"It would be going back to reacting to the first aid, rather than being proactive about the preventative stuff. That's the reason we started this, to add services to schools."
The Counties Manukau District Health Board has decided to stop funding health services at the four decile 3, 4 and 5 high schools in its area. One of the affected schools, Alfriston College, said it was reluctantly reducing its health service from three full- and part-time nurses to one nurse and a first aider. The service would no longer be able perform health promotion work; it would have to focus purely on reacting to students' immediate health needs.
A spokeswoman for Counties Manukau DHB said it was confident its funding of decile 1 and 2 schools would be confirmed by the review.
The Auckland DHB funds health services at several secondary schools rated above decile 2, including at the decile 6 Waiheke High School - in addition to decile 1 and 2 schools. The DHB said it was not planning to cut this funding. A spokesman for Mr Ryall said the purpose of the review was to ensure the programme was, in light of the tight financial environment, a wise use of taxpayers' money.
Mrs Bennetts said reviews of the programme were commissioned by the Health Ministry under the previous Government and published in 2009. Undertaking another review now was a waste of taxpayers' money.
The ministry says in the foreword to the PricewaterhouseCoopers review of the Healthy Community Schools programme in low decile schools that "students who are healthy and well supported in school and home are more likely to achieve better educational outcomes".
The review report says the programme "breaks the cycle" by giving students access to health and social services which would otherwise be difficult, or impossible, for them to access.
"Changes to the services through the ... initiative have provided immediate health benefits, as well as opened the pathway for many students to access services in their wider community.
"Today's major health issues - for example, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer - largely originate from the choices people make in their youth. To address these issues effectively through school health support services, at a time before students permanently make adverse lifestyle choices, will decrease the ongoing health costs associated with treatment."