Support staff win protections for medicine administration in schools

For the first time in Wales, school support staff in Swansea will benefit from new guidelines on the administration of medicines to children in their care. Their union, UNISON has said more children than ever in mainstream education require specific health care, yet support staff receive little or no training in this area and many do not feel confident undertaking such an important task.

Many support staff have reported to UNISON they feel obliged to administer medication in order to allow the child to come to school, despite it not being part of their job description. Generally, no additional payment is offered to staff for this work which can include tube feeding of pupils, catheterisation to permit the passage of urine, monitoring blood glucose levels, applying eczema cream and eye drops, as well as helping with inhalers and hearing equipment. Support staff are regularly called upon to help administer Ritalin for attention deficit disorder and Epipen for allergy relief and antibiotics.

UNISON branch secretary Chris Cooze said,

“Schools cannot survive without support staff; they help to support Special Educational Needs children and those underperforming, help teachers to cope with big classes, release teachers for preparation time and help those with English as an Additional Language. Despite it not featuring in their terms and conditions they are called upon to provide intimate medical care to children on a daily basis. They haven’t all had proper training to administer medication and they have told us they simply don’t feel comfortable. The last thing we want is to put learners at risk.

“The guidelines to be issued in Swansea schools for the autumn term represent the fruition of UNISON’s two-year campaign to offer more protection to members of staff administering medication. They provide consistency between schools, confirm that administration of medication to pupils is on a voluntary basis and that staff can choose not to do it if they don’t feel competent. They also affirm staff will be covered by medical insurance.”

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru/Wales’ lead organiser for schools said,

“The guidelines are very positive and mark a start in recognising the crucial role of support staff and the necessity of quality training and career development. We want all schools across Wales to share this good practice and we will continue campaigning for additional payments for staff carrying out the administration of medicines.”