Head teachers have described plans to ask teaching assistants to take over the work of NHS-trained nurses in providing medical assistance for seriously ill children at four Birmingham Special Schools as “life threatening” in a damning letter seen by the Birmingham Post.
City council officials said they have agreed to review the comments and claim to have held an “amicable” meeting with the worried heads.
Under the scheme floated by the city council, the level of cover at Victoria and Cherry Oak Schools, Brays School, Wilson Stuart School and Sports College and Calthorpe School and Sports College was to be reduced from the highest to the second highest category of care.
It was suggested education support staff and teaching assistants would be given special training to deliver “medical interventions” including administering medicine through a gastrostomy tube, changing a tracheostomy tube, administering injections and resuscitation techniques.
Council bosses said the new system would be fairer and allow nurses to be spread more equitably across the city’s 39 special schools and support centres.
But the local authority was forced to backtrack after “horrified” heads at the four schools described the changes as preposterous and said they could place the lives of vulnerable students, including some with terminal cancer, at “enormous risk”.
In a letter to the council’s Transitional Director of Children, Young People and Families, Eleanor Brazil, the heads claimed that seriously ill pupils might have to be excluded from school because the risk of being looked after by teaching assistants would be too high.
The letter provoked an emergency meeting between the four and Ms Brazil. Afterwards, Calthorpe head teacher Graham Hardy said: “We were horrified at the proposal and I am glad to say that Ms Brazil appears to have taken some of our concerns on board. The proposals are being withdrawn and there is to be a new consultation exercise.
“We hope that people will be a little more realistic about the expectations of the roles of teaching assistants, who we employ to support and teach children and not to provide medica services to young people who in many cases are dangerously ill.”
The letter to Ms Brazil was signed by Jane Edgerton at Brays School, Graham Hardy, Calthorpe School, Justine Sims, Victoria and Cherry Oak School, and Steve Hughes, Wilson Stuart School.
It stated: “The expectation that Level 3 teaching assistants will undertake nursing roles and an inordinate amount of complex medical responsibility is not reasonable, and flawed in its concept.
“The entire consultation draft is an abdication of responsibility. Compelling teaching assistants to undertake such medical tasks is dangerous, unrealistic and inevitably life threatening, regardless of the vague additional superficial training proposal.”
The heads added that the proposed changes were insulting to existing nursing professionals and will devalue the needs of children with complex needs.
Each of the four schools is classed as outstanding by Ofsted, but the head teachers believe the ranking will fall if nursing care is cut back.
The letter concluded: “We trust we will receive an immediate response to this correspondence as currently we feel inclined to share these preposterous proposals with parents and governors and would welcome your response to our concerns. Clearly the schools identified in this draft would be heralded as models of excellence and not penalised for outstanding practice.”
The council admitted in its Special School Nursing Redesign consultation paper that the proposed changes were likely to be controversial.
“It is appreciated that staff might be anxious about taking on responsibility for supporting children with complex health needs because they fear something going wrong. Staff supporting children with complex health needs will always receive appropriate training and support from health professionals and will not be asked to undertake duties outside of their assessed level of competence,” the document added.
It was proposed that the four schools move from high dependency level A to level B in a special school nursing criteria set out by the council and NHS.
Under level a, schools must have on-site nursing provision “so that necessary medical procedures can be undertaken for children with complex needs”.
Under level B, school staff undertake the majority of set medical procedures having received training by a special school nurse.
A council spokeswoman said: “We understand the concerns of the head teachers and have had a very amicable meeting with them, during which we discussed the issue of specialist nursing provision, the rising demand for this, the role of teaching assistants and the need to have more opportunities to work together.
"We are now going to review the consultation to date.”