Supporting the health and well-being of school-aged children through a school nurse programme: A realist evaluation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: The school nurse's role varies across countries. In Scotland, the Chief Nursing Officer recommended that the role should be refocused. The refocused programme emphasises nine care pathways with a view to improve pupils' health and wellbeing. Two sites were identified to test this new programme. Our aim was to assess how, for whom and under what circumstances the programme works in order to provide learning to support school nurse training and intended national roll-out.

METHODS: This study was a mixed methods study, using a realist evaluation approach, and conducted in three phases. In phase one, six nurse managers from both study sites took part in individual interviews or focus groups and this was complemented by programme documents to develop initial programme theory. In phase two, the programme theory was tested using qualitative data from 27 school nurses, and quantitative data from the first 6 months of the programme that captured patterns of referral. The programme theory was refined through analyses and interpretation of data in phase three.

RESULTS: The findings show that the programme enhanced opportunities for early and improved identification of health and wellbeing needs. The context of the nine pathways worked through the mechanism of streamlining referral of relevant cases to school nurses, and yielded positive outcomes by extending school nurses and thus children's engagement with wider services. The mental health and wellbeing pathway was the most frequently used, and nurses referred complex mental health cases to more specialist mental health services, but felt less equipped to deal with low to moderate cases.

CONCLUSIONS: The programme facilitated early identification of risk but was less successful at equipping school nurses to actually deliver specific interventions as intended. Capacity building strategies for school nurses should seek to enhance intervention delivery skills within the parameters of the pathways. Realist evaluation provided a useful framework in terms of identifying contextual and mechanistic influences that required strengthening prior to wider implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number664
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Early online date28 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Scotland
  • school nurse
  • pupils
  • realist evaluation
  • programme theory


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