Thursday, March 18, 2010


Hearing of the death of an asthmatic child because his school did not take timely and suitable action, brought back memories from sixteen years ago, when my child had an accident in the school playground. The child was seen to be in pain. Young school friends were supportive and sympathetic. My child was taken to the head teacher's office where the head kept a watchful eye. Neither parent, or any of the relatives on the contact list were called during that day.

After the school day, I was deeply concerned to see my child white and in such great pain. A nurse at the local cottage hospital signalled to me that she thought there might be a fracture. As it was too late in the day to get a doctor to examine the injury or obtain an X-ray, the nurse applied suitable first-aid and arrangements were made for the investigations and follow-up doctor's appointment for first thing the next morning. A fracture was confirmed.

As a consequence of the manner in which this incident was handled by the head teacher, we wrote to the school. The reply was unsatisfactory and I asked for a meeting, at which the head defended herself with offence. As parents, we set out in writing, future procedures that we wanted to see put in place, should any similar problem occur. 

We required: there must be suitable records within schools and they must be referred to. In our case there were contact details with the school, which were not utilised. Staff are not expected to be medically trained and it should not be assumed by anyone in a school that they have all the medical skills required for all situations. We insisted that parents/relatives be contacted and authorised qualified medical assistance and assessment always be sought.

All these years later, I find it dreadfully upsetting, woeful, to hear that a school still did not have proper procedures for ill or injured children in place, and that there seemed to be a blind jobsworth culture prevailing. Where was simple common sense in the case of a child who was gasping for air?


Vincent said...

Yes, but procedures and common sense are two different things, often opposed.

The more procedures (rules, efficiency systems, targets) are enforced, the more common sense goes to sleep.

Emergencies by their nature don't always fit rules. I remember in such a case, an angry headmistress accusing me: "where were you when we rang?" They had my contact number but I wasn't there. This was before the days of mobile phones.

My wife works as secretary of a hospital department. It's sufficiently important to be included on a brochure given to patients' relatives. To pursue some cost-cutting agenda, the hospital switchboard has become automated, with voice recognition. You have to state the ward you require, and if it can't understand your speech it may put you through to the wrong ward, which is too busy to help you further.

My wife ends up taking calls from anxious elderly people who are driven half-crazy by the switchboard, and looks up the internal directory on their behalf in order to forward their calls. Her vital work is thus interrupted putting more pressure on her day, which is already stressful enough because of inadequate staffing.

Common sense and "inefficiency" thus save the day, when procedures would dictate that she tells them they have a departmental number and they just have to put up with the automated switchboard. She interrupts her own work because their call just might be an emergency - to contact a dying relative for example.

I wonder how often emergencies are created by "efficiency".

Vincent said...

What I am trying to say is that no procedure is perfect and that common sense will only get a chance if staff can over-ride procedures if they consider they have a humanitarian reason to do so, without punishment. It might be terribly inefficient for a teacher to tell the class to get on by themselves while she takes a child to hospital. But it might be the right thing to do.

"Who is my neighbour?" - tale of Good Samaritan etc.

ZACL said...

I fully appreciate your descriptions, assessments and frustrations. Many of us have been through the same avenues you describe and they are absolutely awful.

The boy in question was in a school without procedures, none that the staff knew about. The teacher who sent him out into the corridor, hid behind this management/procedure failure. The head teacher will, no doubt take leadership responsibility and the local education authority will set up procedures for hurt or ill children. Hopefully, staff will be educated to various illnesses that children suffer and will, in future respond with compassion and humanity. Even better, get proper help mobilised.

The class teacher would not usually go with a sick pupil to a GP or hospital, there would be another person, such as a head teacher, an assistant, or parent, if there is time to wait for one.

The head who succeeded to the post at my child's primary school had a straightforward policy on health and injury issues. Obtain medical assessment either from the local surgery as an emergency appointment, if that was a suitable arrangement, get a taxi to the cottage hospital in other circumstances, because waiting for the limited number of ambulances i this region, could take too long. I call that, sensible and decisive.

Anonymous said...

I despair when I hear or read of such incidents.
What indeed happened to common sense! Sadly it appears to have little place in this ever more crazy world that we live in. Flighty xx

ZACL said...

That is heartfelt Flighty, and of course, I agree with you.


Anonymous said...

it's often easier to turn a blind eye to a problem and hope it goes away rather than actually deal wih it and offer help.

as in all cases like this, there follows a lengthy enquiry resulting in the words "it must never happen again"...until the next time.

ZACL said...

Whereto loco parentis?

I hope that class teacher never has an asthmatic kid of her own.

...and yes. Ax.