Do I have to do it?”
This is the most common question that teachers ask the NEU teaching union about the administration of medication at school, according to its policy officer, Sarah Lyons.
In case you were wondering, the answer to that question is no.
Teachers can only administer medicines voluntarily and school staff cannot be required to offer medical support to children with health conditions unless it is written into their contract, Lyons says. But how many of your staff would be able to recite this guidance?
The fact that so many teachers have to ask whether they should be expected to administer medication suggests that many school medicine policies are either not clear enough, or are not being adequately communicated to staff.
School leaders have to make sure their school is legally compliant when it comes to administering medication and that every member of their staff knows what is expected of them. This starts with getting the right policy in place. How do you go about this?
The first step is to familiarise yourself with the legislation surrounding administering medication in schools. In recent years, there have been a number of changes to the law of which headteachers should be aware.
Section 100 of the Children and Families Act 2014 places a legal duty on maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units to support pupils with medical conditions.
Meanwhile, adrenaline auto-injectors (or EpiPens) are available for schools to purchase without prescription from 1 October 2017, for emergency use on pupils with diagnosed allergies. This is similar to the changes to the law that made asthma inhalers available for schools to purchase from 2014.
Despite these changes, a lack of clarity remains around who in school should administer medication. This is problematic for schools trying to meet the needs of pupils with medical conditions, says Jon Richards, head of education at Unison. This is something the union has flagged in its recent advice on the Department for Education’s statutory guidance on supporting pupils at school with medical conditions, which was updated in August this year.
Given this lack of clarity, one headteacher – who wishes to remain anonymous – suggests that school leaders must ensure that there are designated members of staff in school who have received specific training around medication and who everyone knows to go to when the need arises.
“Administering medicines in most schools is done by qualified first aiders,” she says (although legally, those administering medication do not also have to be trained in first aid). “There should be a policy. It’s never a case of parents turning up with something and expecting teachers (or other staff) to deal with it. I’d hope any member of staff approached by a parent to administer medicines would pass them on to the appropriate person.”
School policies need to ensure that anyone administering medication has been trained to carry out that procedure, Richards adds, be it administering an inhaler or an EpiPen.
“Training has to be carried out by an appropriate registered healthcare professional or accredited training provider and on a named-child basis,” he explains.
The DfE’s statutory guidance makes it clear that all medicines should be available to staff and students when needed and that the “locked cupboard” scenario should be avoided for anything other than controlled medicines.
Have a back-up plan
Children may be able to carry their own medication around with them and self-administer if appropriate, though this decision should be made in consultation with parents.
There still needs to be a back-up plan: “If a child has an asthma attack and they don’t have their inhaler on them, there needs to be a system in place that means that medicine can be accessed speedily,” says Lyons.
This means that the availability of medicines on school trips, or when children are in different parts of the school site, such as on a playing field, should be considered in any medicine administration policy.
Part of making medicines available at the right time is sharing information about the child’s health condition and medication with everyone who needs to know.
“I think people are scared to share information, but...if there are processes around confidentiality then the guidance is clear that information should be shared on a need-to-know basis”, explains Natalie Wargent, an associate at law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards.
Those involved in the administration of medicines to pupils need to ensure records are kept of the medication you hold for the pupil, when and if it has been administered, by who and if it has been refused.
“[Good record keeping] will make it a much easier argument in terms of employees, parents, inspectors and the courts,” Wargent explains.
Of course, hopefully it won’t come to that. But making sure that you have a strong policy in place is the best way to ensure positive outcomes for pupils with medical needs and for the whole school.
Hannah Flynn is a freelance journalist