'Train teachers' to give children medicines

5th June 1998 at 01:00
TEACHERS should be trained to administer medicines to pupils. But, according to a leading paediatrician, parents must accept that they, not teachers, have the main responsibility.

Dr Michael Bannon, of Northwick Park Hospital, north London, says that treatment for chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy has become a much-disputed issue, leading to regular conflict between teachers and parents.

But he argues in an article in the British Medical Journal of May 23 that treatment should not be demanded from teachers. Instead, he says it should be negotiated.

Currently, teachers can choose to administer drugs, but they cannot be made to do so.

Dr Bannon's article cites the case of four-year-old Jamie, who suffered a violent allergic reaction to peanuts. His GP recommended that his carers should not only be capable of recognising the early signs of anaphylactic shock but also be able to give Jamie adrenaline injections if necessary.

However, Jamie's mother was told his teachers could not give injections because it was a medical rather than a teaching responsibility.

"This has been a contentious issue for years, regularly resulting in conflict between parents and teachers," says Dr Bannon.

"An increasing number of children with substantial physical and medical disorders now receive their education in mainstream schools. The term in loco parentis is obsolete and is not relevant in this context.

"However, school staff in charge of pupils have a duty in common law to act as a responsible parent to ensure children remain safe and healthy on school premises. In certain circumstances, teachers might be expected to administer drugs or to take appropriate action in an emergency."

His report concludes that teachers should continue to respond positively to children with medical needs, but that local education authorities need to ensure each school has policies in place to deal with the administration of medicines to children.

Dr Bannon added: "The school health service must take a lead in this area, with the school nurse as the focal point. In particular, school health profiles could be used as an index of local need, which might be incorporated into children's service plans."

But he highlighted problems with the school health service which, he said, had adopted a preventative, rather than therapeutic, focus.

"Their activities have always been based on health promotion and disease reduction. The reality is that school health workers are not resident and have numerous schools on their individual caseloads."

Sarah Cassidy

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