Medical care 'crisis' needs more than a quick fix, claim charities

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Union says staff and pupils are being put 'at risk' when dealing with serious conditions

Children and staff are being put at risk because of a "crisis" in the way schools deal with medical conditions, charities and unions have warned.

More than 30 charities and public-service union Unison have joined forces to demand that the new Government makes improvements to the care given to ill children at school. Duties expected of staff - many of whom are untrained - include trachea cleaning, tube feeding, giving injections and emptying catheters, they claim.

New advice from Unison will recommend that members, who include teaching assistants and administrative staff, should think twice before caring for those with serious medical conditions to avoid putting themselves at risk.

The Health in Schools Alliance wants more school nurses, better training for teachers and for all primary and secondaries to produce a plan of how they will deal with medical issues. Department for Education guidance advises them to do this, but does not make it a statutory requirement.

"We think this is now a crisis in schools and the Government has to respond to that," said Unison national officer Christine Lewis. "Our members have a natural inclination to support, but this is making them increasingly vulnerable."

The campaigners, who have met with the Department of Health as well as the DfE, also want better protection for whistleblowers who report worries. According to Unison, one school cook was sacked after she told a parent that teachers were not doing enough to protect her child, who had food allergies.

Charities say the combining of education and children's services in councils has done little to make sure ill children are cared for properly.

"Care for pupils with illnesses trickles down to the least powerful part of the workforce," said Ms Lewis. "Too often they have worked on a voluntary basis, but now we feel this is putting our members at risk. The last thing we want is for reluctant school workers having to provide support; it's dangerous and emotionally distressing."

Babs Young, secretary of the School and Public Health Nurses Association, said: "The changing environment of education - with free schools and academies - is going to make it more difficult to improve the situation and to raise awareness. We are not asking for teachers to be medically trained. We just want schools to be confident in how they respond to medical conditions."

The charities say improvements in medical care in schools would also reduce the number of pupils who drop out or underperform in exams, and reduce bullying.

Children with a medical condition are entitled to dedicated support if they have a statement of special educational needs - but not all do.

Last year a Unison survey found almost 70 per cent of support staff were expected to administer medicines and 85 per cent had to provide "medical support". Most said their training was mainly informal.

A DfE spokesman said schools should ensure that staff who manage pupils' medical needs are properly trained. "The current situation is for schools and local authorities to draw up their own policies," he said. "Many are able to do so with appropriately trained school staff and support from their LA and primary care trust."


Neglect ruling

Sam Linton, 11, (pictured) died after neglect at Offerton High School in Stockport "significantly contributed" to his death, a coroner ruled.

He was made to sit in a corridor struggling to breathe in December 2007; he died later in hospital. The inquest, in March this year, ruled Sam's death was significantly contributed to by "neglect on an individual and systemic level".

The school said governors have reviewed the way children with asthma and other medical conditions are cared for and practices have been changed.

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