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Blame culture

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:26pm
This lady is ‘considering suing her son’s school’ for ‘failing to exercise their duty of care’ when he fell in the playground, bumped his head and subsequently – hours later – developed neurological problems, as the result of an intracranial bleed.

I train at many schools around the country - I teach the staff basic first aid and that's all they need to know. I also tell them some home truths about their position and what their actual duty of care is when it concerns children and accidents.

I feel very angry when people try to use their limited or flawed knowledge of the law to persecute for the sake of blaming someone for things that could NOT have been foreseen. Instead, these same individuals complain when their life is interrupted in the interest of the self-preservation of others. For example, school staff. They are an easy target, aren't they? Let's all blame the people with whom we trust the care and education of our children. Let's give them such a hard time that they are drained of power and no longer care whether their job is valued by us or not. Many of them leave the profession, rather than spend another minute listening to the constant whining, bitching and bossing of parents, some of whom are ignorant and unreasonable. Start taking responsibility for your own kids for Pete's sake!

Would it be reasonable for a school to call you every time your child fell? No. You'd have a go at them for that too.

I am a parent, so I have the right to speak about these things. I am a professional clinician, so I have the right to defend the principles upon which these words are based. I know the law and therefore I can categorically state in fact what would be right or wrong in some, but not all, cases where first aid care is concerned. I am also a member of society and was brought up to respect my teachers and all the adults working in schools. I had a healthy fear of the consequences of my actions and my parents were guided by the better judgment, in most cases, of the professionals they had put their trust in.

Now, here's the problem at schools. This case, sad as it is for the unfortunate little boy and his mother, will cause repercussions throughout the country and every nervous school will call an ambulance EVERY time a child falls and bumps his head! This is intolerable. We have all bumped our heads. Every now and again, just like in adult life, a complication occurs...sometimes people die. We can't scan every head that meets a pavement or a classroom floor.

Now who is to blame for this boy's injury? Did a teacher throw the child to the floor? Was he pushed, shoved or tripped by someone or something? Probably not. He fell by all accounts. The school staff monitored him and did exactly what they were supposed to do. What they did NOT do was dial 999 and say 'We need an ambulance for a....err...well, a child who has fallen'.

'What injuries does he have?' they would have been asked.

'Well, none that we can see'.

'Is he conscious?'


'Is he breathing?'


'Is he vomiting?'


'So, you want an emergency ambulance for an uninjured, conscious child, who is breathing and behaving normally?'

'Yes because if we don't the parents might sue us.'

'Okay but have you considered who may die of a heart attack because our ambulance is travelling to your school for nothing at all?'

In the end you have to ask yourself a perfectly logical question. Do you have any reason to send this child to hospital, other than an irrational fear that something untoward may have taken place inside his skull that you cannot see?

What if this had happened at home? Is this lady honestly saying she would have rushed him to hospital or called an ambulance because he fell and hit his head? Has he never hit his head before?

What kind of person tries to blame a school for such an unfortunate accident? A scared person? An ignorant person? A embittered person who needs to express her anger at God?

I will apologise for all these words if it transpires the child was abused in some way or there was a hazard in the school environment that caused the fall but I protest at society and it's need to hound people who care for our kids whenever it suits them. Pursue them for a reason, don't bully them just because it's easy and you feel guilty that you weren't there.

Why not sue the school for having a hard floor in the first place? Why don't we start fitting rubber flooring everywhere? While we are at it, let's ban rain because it makes the outside ground slippery and a child could fall.

When I teach, I rarely get a negative reaction to my views and generally the vast majority of people in front of me will nod their heads in agreement and debates will begin on the spot. Nothing changes though and I blame the parents for that. It's time parents got together with their schools and talked these issues through. Let's look at some of the other examples of an automatised blame culture society that seeks to justify it clingy cotton-wooled sentiments over health and safety.

Plasters; you are not allowed to put one on a child because he may react to it. RUBBISH! Even the HSE has produced a poster informing everyone that this is untrue. In fact, not putting a plaster on could be seen as neglect because it is a first aid 'tool' and an alternative may not be sterile and could cause infection. I've seen filthy toilet paper put on a wound instead of a plaster because of this stupidity.

Splinters; taking one out of a child's finger is illegal and is assault. ROT! It is NOT illegal to do the duty of a parent when you are in charge of their child. By proxy you 'become their parent' -In loco parentis- a legal term which literally means 'in the place of a parent'. So, legally, a teacher/school must show the same duty of care towards a pupil as would a reasonable parent. In other words, if you think a mother would remove a splinter, then you should remove it. Why on earth, unless there are complications, would you send your child to hospital with a microscopic bit of wood in his finger? Are you mad?

Inhalers; you can keep a spare inhaler and use it when a child has forgotten to bring theirs to school. NO, you can't...not unless it belongs to the child himself. It is illegal to use someone else's prescription medicine in any circumstance, unless it is on the exempt list (epipens are on this list). I know of at least one local authority that actually sanctions and authorises (as if they have the right) the use of anyone's inhaler in cases of emergency. In a real emergency it probably won't be effective and giving a drug that you know nothing about and does not belong to the recipient is negligent. By all means store a spare belonging to the child, and then only in term time.

Or how about this? Let the child take care of his/her own medicines. If they are deemed to have capacity, they can keep their own.

I could go on and on...the list seems endless and the capacity for parents to make life miserable for school staff seems inexhaustible. I feel very sorry for them.

Have a look at the other myths being circulated as truths on the HSE's own website.

And for the record, here are some extracts of relevance from the Government's guildelines on medicines in schools. The government also makes it clear that there is no legal responsibility for school staff to administer first aid to pupils but there is a duty of care.

13. Parents have the prime responsibility for their child’s health and should provide schools and settings with information about their child’s medical condition.

16. There is no legal duty that requires school or setting staff to administer medicines.

25. Medicines should only be taken to school or settings when essential; that is where it would be detrimental to a child’s health if the medicine were not administered during the school or setting ‘day’. Schools and settings should only accept medicines that have been prescribed by a doctor, dentist, nurse prescriber or pharmacist prescriber.

34. Misuse of a controlled drug, such as passing it to another child for use, is an offence.

89. Teachers’ conditions of employment do not include giving or supervising a pupil taking medicines.

107. Large volumes of medicines should not be stored. Staff should only store, supervise and administer medicine that has been prescribed for an individual child.

108. Children should know where their own medicines are stored and who holds the key.
The head is responsible for making sure that medicines are stored safely. All emergency medicines, such as asthma inhalers and adrenaline pens, should be readily available to children and should not be locked away.

If you are a teacher or work at a school, you may find some of this information interesting, especially if it comes as a shock to you. In my experience, not many schools have seen or even know about the Government's guidelines on first aid and medicines policy in schools.

I'd like to know your views on this but please don't bombard me with stories that simply highlight rare and unusual circumstances because that's just missing the point.

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