Thursday, 7 December 2017
Occupational First Aid
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House. This is the first time I have had the pleasure of welcoming her to this House. I hope she is settling into her new portfolio.
The issue that I am raising is quite literally a matter of life and death. I was recently made aware by Councillor Melissa O’Neill from Kilkenny of the first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR, campaign which already has 7,000 signatures. The campaign has been adopted by the health forum in ten local authorities and has the support of many Members of the Oireachtas. It was started by a Kilkenny mother whose daughter, Isabelle, has apnoea and can stop breathing at any time. She attends primary school and her mother wants all physically able teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, to be trained to respond, not just to her condition but to the thousands of children and young adults who may require lifesaving first aid in schools.
As a former principal, the Minister of State will know what I am talking about. Some schools have trained first responders but this is ad hocand is not compulsory for every school. I am asking that the Minister of State make it compulsory for every school to have teachers and SNAs fully trained in first aid and to provide the necessary funding. Otherwise this will not happen.
In making my case, I am already anticipating the Minister of State's response. She may say that it is the responsibility of boards of management and not the Department under the provisions of the Education Act 1998 to be responsible for the care and safety of all students in schools. Of course this is the case and I am not disputing this. However, without compulsory first aid training and without the funding to provide it, there will be no standardised practice in schools. The Minister of State will have to take the lead on this. Otherwise we will just go around in circles like we have done with the weight of school bags, with the whole thing falling between stools of responsibility and being left up to the school or the board of management and no standardised practice across schools. In terms of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Applications) Regulations 2007 which set out the first aid requirements for workplaces, can the Minister of State explain how these apply to pupils who are not employees and, as such, fall into a completely different category?
Schools do a fantastic job in working in conjunction with parents, teachers and children to put preventive measures in place and to lessen the possibility of any difficulties arising if a student suffers from an illness. SNAs who work with children who have medical conditions do outstanding work. However, what I am asking for is not just for children with special conditions, it is for a high level of preparedness should any incident occur. The degree of care and supervision which must be exercised by those in charge of schools has been described in a number of legal cases as, “a duty to exercise the care which a careful parent would exercise for the protection of his or her own children". In the case of children who have pre-identified medical conditions or a choking incident, thein loco parentisrule still applies. However, without the necessary training it may be impossible for teachers or SNAs to respond properly, particularly in cases where time is of the essence.
I am well aware that the Department cannot direct any member of the board of management or the teaching staff of the school to administer medical treatment which is normally carried out by medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. What we are asking for, however, is training in treatment that can be carried out by someone who is not a medical professional but who has the training and the necessary skills. They do not have to be a nurse or doctor to do this, so that is a moot point. Among teachers and SNAs there is a great willingness to undertake this training and I have been reliably told that in addition to the Red Cross, there are plenty of reputable first aid trainers out there to do the work. The Red Cross is in the schools already working with the children. The training of teachers and SNAs would be the logical next step as the Red Cross is already providing paediatric first aid training to child care workers around Ireland.
I am just about to finish. There are loads of options. Training courses could also be offered as part of in-service training and other forms of continuous professional development or better still why not have first aid and CPR included in the curriculum in the higher diploma or professional master of education in primary education, PME, in the teacher training colleges? This is the most logical and cost effective option. Some trainee teachers have told me they can take first aid but have to pay for it themselves. Personally, I think to expect already hard pressed students to do external first aid courses out of their own pockets is neither fair nor feasible. The skill to save a pupil’s life should not be left to chance and should not be discretionary. It should be top priority.
One of the greatest features of our education system is that children-----
I am just finished. Children with even complex medical conditions can attend school with their peers but our duty of care must be commensurate with their needs.
I thank the Minister of State for giving me the time today and I would ask that she and her officials give this serious consideration. I am sorry for going over time.
I thank Senator Craughwell for raising this issue and for welcoming me here as Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for higher education. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has asked me to take this Commencement matter.
The Senator did mention I was a former school principal and yes our teachers would have been trained up voluntarily if they wanted to be, as would SNAs. That would have happened in the school and I am very aware that it does happen regularly but it is an ad hocsystem.
The Department promotes the quality of teaching and learning through the provision of quality teacher training programmes, continuing professional development and support for principals and teachers in a range of pedagogical, curricular and educational areas. This is done through initial teacher education programmes, education centres and support services for teachers at primary and post-primary level.
Under the provisions of the Education Act 1998, the board of management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school. The board of management of each school is responsible for the care and safety of all of the students in its school and care and safety should be at the centre of all policy and practices. Schools are required to take all reasonable precautions to provide training for teachers to ensure the safety and welfare of their pupils. The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, advises that, by law, employers and those who control workplaces to any extent, must identify hazards in the workplaces under their control and assess the risk presented by the hazards.
Employers must write down the risks and what to do about them. This is known as risk assessment. The aim of risk assessment is to reduce the risk of injury and illness associated with work. The risk assessment will form part of the employer’s safety statement.The safety, health and welfare at work general application regulations 2007 set out the first aid requirements for workplaces as follows:
Employers have a duty to provide first-aid equipment at all places of work where working conditions require it. Depending on the size or specific hazard (or both) of the place of work, trained occupational first-aiders must also be provided. Apart from some exceptions, first-aid rooms must be provided where appropriate. Information must also be provided to employees as regards the first-aid facilities and arrangements in place.
It is important that the school management authority requests parents to ensure that the school is made aware of any medical condition suffered by any student attending. Where the school is
aware of potential difficulties that may arise as a consequence of a medical condition suffered by one or more students, it may be possible for the management authorities, working in conjunction
with parents, teachers and children, to put preventative measures in place to lessen the possibility of any difficulties arising or to ensure that if a student suffers from an illness requiring, for
example, the administration of medication, that appropriate treatment is available.
The administration of medicines in primary schools is the subject of an agreement between the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, and the organisation representing school management at primary level. While this agreement specifies that no teacher can be required to administer medicine or drugs to pupils, it also sets out procedures that must be followed where teachers agree to do so. The position is that either the parents of the child make themselves available to administer medication as required or, where they wish the staff in the school to administer it, they should indemnify the school.. The Department cannot direct any member of the board of management or the teaching staff of a school to administer medical treatment to pupils, including actions or procedures which are normally carried out by medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. The organisation of training in the administration of medicines is a matter for the board of management and my Department has no plans for future training programmes in this area.
Where a child requires adult assistance in the administration of medicine and where the extent of assistance required would overly disrupt normal teaching time, SNA support may be allocated for this purpose. It is a matter for the board of management to ensure that SNAs are in a position to effectively meet the care needs of students for whom SNA support has been allocated in the school when appointing an SNA. Where specific training is required, the board of management should liaise with the Health Service Executive, HSE, in order to ensure that the HSE provides guidance and training that enables the SNA to meet the care needs of the pupil in an appropriate manner. It is a matter for individual school authorities to make such arrangements locally.
It is my Department’s experience that once the matter has been discussed in detail with the board of management and staff of a school and once all parties are clear as to the procedures to be
followed, arrangements can normally be made to assist the administration of first aid or medicine. The NCSE is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the SNA scheme. In response to a progress report from the NCSE on the comprehensive assessment, the NCSE was requested to establish a working group comprising relevant stakeholders to assist in proposing a better model for providing care supports so as to provide better outcomes for students with special educational needs who have additional care needs. This working group, which is chaired by Mr. Eamon Stack, chairperson of the NCSE, has commenced its work. That work will run in tandem with the completion of the overall comprehensive review of the SNA scheme. It is intended that the reports of the working group and of the review will be completed by the end of March 2018.
It comes as no surprise to me that in her former role as a school principal, the Minister of State had first aid facilities on site. That is a hallmark of the person she was and she ran an excellent school in her time. However, the arrangements across the country are ad hoc. I am referring here to basic first aid, not to the administration of medicine. I ask the Minister of State to revert to the Minister and ask him to examine this area. It would be simple enough to provide basic first aid training as part of the teacher training programme. We are not looking for serious medical intervention here, but basic first aid.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House this morning. No doubt, we will engage again at some stage.