Staff 'pressured' to give out medicine to pupils

19th June 2009 at 01:00

Children's health is being put at risk by schools that expect support staff to administer medicine despite the fact they have only received basic first aid training, a union has warned.

More than 70 per cent of such staff said they were expected to help pupils with asthma, diabetes and heart conditions, a survey for Unison revealed. In more complex cases, they also complete procedures such as tube-feeding children and changing colostomy bags.

Many staff said they felt under "moral pressure" to give medical support, although few members reported having had specialist training.

The union, which represents 200,000 support staff, is calling for an urgent review of medical procedures carried out in schools. It wants national protocols to be drawn up in consultation with education and health professionals.

"This evidence shows a chronic lack of training and support for school staff, who are expected to provide a wide range of medical support for pupils," said Christina McAnea, Unison's head of education. "We are bound to see a serious incident if schools don't get the help they need to manage children's special medical needs. The current arrangements are an accident waiting to happen."

Michelle McKenna, a schools support worker from Durham, said: "Support staff are really worried that they will make a mistake. But they are even more worried about the safety of the children they look after.

"Many of the procedures they are being asked to perform are above and beyond what they signed up to do, and it is only a matter of time before something terrible happens."

The survey, to which 334 school support staff responded, found that half did not realise that administering medicine was actually a voluntary part of their job. One in four said they did not feel competent or comfortable with the responsibility.

WARNING OVER COVER

Teaching assistants must not be exploited by covering lessons without extra pay, the main union for school support staff warned this week.

There is a risk that schools will implement new rules guaranteeing teachers the right to cover classes rarely by "riding roughshod" over lower paid teaching assistants, Unison said. Delegates at the union's annual conference in Brighton were concerned that they were not being properly consulted before the changes are brought in September.

Christina McAnea, the union's head of education, said schools should employ extra staff or agency workers to cover lessons until better pay rates had been agreed for support staff who take on extra work.

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