Experts have questioned the decision to introduce a new mental health role in schools, rather than upskill the existing registered nurse workforce.

NHS England launched the education mental health practitioner job at the end of last month and described it as a new role, which would “support mental health in schools and colleges”.

However, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble called for investment in existing school and mental health nurses “rather than reinventing the wheel”.

“Education mental health practitioners must not encourage mental health trusts and local authorities to simply substitute cheaper, less well trained staff for highly-trained mental health and school nurses,” Ms Gamble said.

Ms Gamble also questioned who would “supervise and support EMHPs”.

Sharon White, chief executive of the School and Public Health Nurses Association, said: “The suggestion that after only one year of training these practitioners would be able to provide the level of understanding deserved by our children and young people… is a nonsense sticking plaster.”

Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, told HSJ the new role demonstrates a “welcome recognition” of the mental health needs of school children, but said it is “a missed opportunity” to recognise the skills of the existing school nurses with “significant expertise in mental health”.

“An investment into the school nursing service would be a welcome alternative to the proposal,” Dr Oldman said. 

NHS England did not wish to comment, and instead suggested the Department of Health and Social Care could respond.

A DHSC spokeswoman said it is building on the increasing investment in the core children and young people’s mental health workforce to design a role “dedicated solely” to supporting the mental health needs of school age children in education settings.

“The new teams will not replace but will build on support already available from staff based in and attached to schools, colleges and other education settings,” she said.

Potential applicants for the role will need to be able to demonstrate the ability to study at university undergraduate degree level as a minimum, and the new support teams will include qualified staff working at more senior levels to supervise the new role, she added.