Youth health services provided at school

The School Health Services team at Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, including Te Puke High School nurse Natasha Harris (front, second from right).

Pastoral care in schools is increasingly growing and the school health nurse is playing a key role in looking after student health and wellbeing, even going so far as screening for emotional distress.

The Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation’s 10 school health nurses tend to a multitude of health needs, ranging from skin infections and sore throats to offering contraceptive and healthy eating advice.

They provide free health services for 13 to 18-year-olds at nine of the region’s secondary schools and alternative education centres and each sees an average of 60 students a week during term time.

Philippa Jones, WBOP PHO Services Leader, says many school-aged young people do not see their GP often so having access to a nursing and GP service at school is a very important aspect of healthcare provision. “The staff are highly trained and experienced and have made a difference to many young people’s lives.”

Te Puke High School nurse Natasha Harris has been working at the school for six years and, as well as seeing students who make appointments, gives each of the school’s Year 9 students a top to toe health assessment as part of the Ministry of Health’s Youth Mental Health Project.

Students are asked a series of questions relating to home, education/employment, eating, activities, drugs, sexuality, suicide and depression, and safety (HEEADSSS). Any medical or mental health issues are identified at an early stage, and students can be referred for treatment.

“The more I do the assessments, the more I see that identifying risk early is really important so you can help to support them any way you can,” says Natasha.

As a part of school health services, local GP Vanessa Muller also holds a clinic at the school one day a week.

Every day at work is different, says Natasha. “Anything can happen in a school, including getting called to an emergency.

“I see students for a variety of reasons. I’m currently seeing a lot of skin infections and strep throat. We also offer acne treatment and have seen awesome results for our boys especially. It changes their confidence, and the way they hold themselves, which is great.”

Natasha says she has developed a good relationship with many of the students, and most recently with a group of students from Kirabas who attend the school.

Referrals come from teachers, parents and other community agencies in the area and Natasha works closely with the school counsellor.

“The Te Puke High School community is awesome. Everyone works hard for the students. The teachers know they can contact me any time if they’re concerned about someone.”

A junior health expo is planned for the school later in the year where various health agencies will come in and offer additional support and advice.