Vulnerable children at risk due to lack of nursing supports in schools

State body warns of ‘urgent’ need to provide support for pupils with complex medical conditions

Call for greater medical support in schools for children with life-threatening conditions. Photograph: Istock

Vulnerable children with life-threatening conditions are unsafe and at risk due to a lack of nursing supports in schools, a State advisory body for special education has warned.

Many children with complex medical conditions – such as epilepsy or cardiac problems – now attend schools and may require the administration of medication through catheters and tracheostomies.

However, teachers and special needs assistants, who do not have clinical training, end up supporting many of these pupils.

The National Council for Special Education told the Department of Education last year that schools needed support to handle these situations "as a matter of urgency".


Most of these children are among the thousands that attend at least 125 special schools funded by the State, though some are also in mainstream classes.

The warning prompted the establishment of a working group – made up mainly of individuals from Government departments and the HSE.

There are risks for children in receipt of supports and risks for nurses and the school management bodies and patrons

It concluded earlier this summer that there was an “immediate need” to put in place a scheme to provide for nursing supports in schools.

The group found that while about 44 full-time nurses were in the system, arrangements were often ad hoc and some services were not clinically supervised.

The Irish Deaf Society is calling for the recognition of Irish Sign Language as an official language. Photograph: Thinkstock

“This situation is unsafe and unsatisfactory. There are risks for children in receipt of supports and risks for nurses and the school management bodies and patrons,” the working group found.


It also found that parents and schools universally found funding for nursing supports to be inadequate, with little clarity around entitlement or eligibility.

The support group found that there was no clear responsibility for the delivery of health services in school, or for the delivery of education services in health establishments.

In addition, it said while voluntary bodies have traditionally provided nursing supports, many no longer see themselves has having a role in education.

In its recommendations, it has proposed that ring-fenced funding be provided for nursing cover in schools, or in clusters of schools. It also says existing nursing cover should be brought within a proposed new scheme.

“Proposals for the implementation of the report’s proposals are expected to be brought to Government for consideration in the early autumn,” a Department of Education spokesman said.

However, Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne TD criticised delays in tackling an issue which was raised as urgent well over a year ago.

“The report is quite stark stating that if something is not done, there will be a crisis in schools. This issue needs to be addressed urgently,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent