Urgent action is needed to protect children and young people with specialist health needs while they are at school, nursing unions have warned.
A growing number of children with complex health needs – including long term conditions and restricted mobility – are being put at risk because untrained support staff are being pressurised into caring for them, according to Unison and the Royal College of Nursing.
They highlight that, because teacher’s contracts do not include giving or supervising medicines, the responsibility often falls onto school support staff.
The union survey on the issue received 2,322 responses. Of these, 39% were registered nurses, 57% were school support staff, and 4% were other registered healthcare professionals such as speech and language therapists.
More than one in four, 28%, support staff said they did not feel comfortable or competent to give pupils drugs or support tube feeding, airway suctioning, tracheostomy care and catheterisation.
The majority said they did not receive regular training, and some reported never having any training at all before being expected to provide healthcare support to pupils.
Nearly one in five, 18%, of support staff said they felt forced to take on the responsibility for administering medicines or healthcare procedures as they did not want to let children down.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of school nurses said specialist care plans were not always in place.
Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “While there are a number of examples of good practice, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure all schools are able to provide safe and well-planned healthcare support.
“There is also a clear need for more school nurses, community children’s nurses and children’s nurse specialists to adequately train and support staff in schools to meet the needs of their pupils.
“Currently, there is a chronic underinvestment in these areas, with a recent survey revealing that one in six school nurses had seen posts cut in the last year.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis added: “The lack of training and support for school staff who have to deal with a growing number of children with increasingly complex health needs is a tragedy waiting to happen.”