Schools’ Medical Provision Inadequate

19 Nov 2010

GMB warns parents that over 1 million school pupils with medical needs are at risk through “inadequate” provision as the ConDem government refuses to act. A new GMB survey shows that over 1 million children are being put at risk in schools by the Government and head teachers who leave non-medical school support staff to perform complex medical procedures with little or no training or supervision.

A majority (57%) of school secretaries, teaching assistants and other school support staff surveyed by GMB say they have not received relevant professional training for the medical duties they are expected to undertake. These duties include responsibility for asthma pumps and inhalers, administration of controlled doses of behavioural drugs, epilepsy medication, insulin injections for diabetes and epipen injections for anaphylactic shock, catheter care, tracheostomy care, Hickman Line (IV drip) maintenance and replacement, etc.

Medical duties in schools are meant to be voluntary, but a large proportion of school support staff (43%) feel pressurised into taking on such responsibilities and most (62%) feel vulnerable about being expected to do so.

The duties fall on school secretaries and teaching assistants because there are only 1,620 school nurses for over 22,000 maintained schools in England.  Furthermore the public-health roles of school nurses may not include responsibility for hands-on nursing procedures. In addition, school staff are not insured for any professional medical negligence that might arise should something go wrong.

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Services said: “Demand for medical provision in mainstream schools is increasing substantially. GMB want to advise parents that the makeshift voluntary arrangements that schools have in place are totally inadequate and close to breaking point. GMB are being inundated with examples of non-medical support staff in schools being assigned inappropriate and complex medical duties. In many cases, staff report they are getting little or no training or supervision. It’s a sign of their fantastic dedication that they take on these roles, but we really need to ask more of community health professionals.

GMB has been trying to raise this issue with ministers for some time. At the moment the Government remains committed to light-touch and ineffective guidance about what provision schools ‘should’ have in place. The responsible minister in the Department for Education, Sarah Teather, has declined even to meet us to discuss these serious concerns.

What GMB want is:

i) A fully regulated system of medical provision in schools, equivalent to SEN

And within that regulated system,

ii) A lead role for healthcare professionals, including responsibility for proper training, accreditation and supervision

iii) Clear and reasonable limits on the basic medical duties that support staff may undertake

iv) Guarantees of legal protection (i.e. indemnity) for support staff”

Children’s wellbeing is of paramount importance, which is why GMB wants a full public review of how medical needs are managed in schools. It is imperative that the Government directs and supports schools, local authorities and the NHS to work together to ensure that appropriate provision is in place”.