Most students at some point in time will need to take prescribed or over-the-counter medications whilst at school. Schools are responsible for ensuring pupils with medical conditions are supported and have access to a full education.
There are a number of different pieces of legislation that cover the handling and administration of medicines in schools, including:
The Children and Families Act places a duty on the governing bodies of schools to ensure that pupils with medical conditions are properly supported and have access to a full education. Although it is reasonable for schools to investigate if parents/carers can administer medication outside of school hours, they must have procedures in place that ensure that students needing medication during school hours are fully supported.
Not complying with the legislation and best practice guidance can lead to unsafe medication handling and administration practices which can increase the likelihood of a medication error occurring and a student being put in danger. This sort of failure would impact negatively on Ofsted ratings and where there are significant or repeated breaches, there could also be fines or prosecutions with individual staff members could subject to disciplinary action and dismissal.
In relation to administering medication there are the following roles and responsibilities outlined within the legislation:
A staff member who is responsible for administering medication must do it to the best of their ability and in line with the school policy. They are accountable for the outcome of any actions they take which were not in line with the school policy or the training they’ve received eg:
Policies and procedures should give staff step-by-step guidance and all the information they need to be able to safely handle and administer medication. They should be written with reference to the relevant legislation and guidance. An effective policy will:
Creating the policy is usually the responsibility of the headteacher working with the governing body, it is then the headteacher’s role to implement. The policy should include:
Every school must have a robust school medication policy in place that addresses the school’s approach to managing pupils’ medical needs. A policy must include:
Students who have been identified as having a long term health condition requiring support in school including support in an emergency situation will have an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP). The government has provided an example IHCP and information on what they should contain in the statutory guidance ‘Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions’ (December 2015).
Schools must have in place written consent from the parent/carer to administer prescription medication. The consent form must include specific information about the medication including the name, dose, time, method, and any special instructions. Schools should also have a clear policy on how they will manage non-prescription medications including parental permissions. For example, administering children’s paracetamol (e.g. Calpol) to a pupil who has developed a high temperature can prevent them from becoming more seriously unwell. Schools can allow specific over-the counter medication as being appropriate to administer during the school day - e.g. children’s paracetamol or antihistamines.
Staff should also seek verbal consent from the pupil before administering medication in a private setting, away from distractions and that the pupil’s confidentiality is maintained. Talk to the child beforehand to identify and address any potential issues e.g. having a drink ready for the pupil to have afterwards to help deal with any unpleasant taste.
Seeking consent, promoting independence and allowing pupils to do as much of the process for themselves as possible will support pupils to become more responsible and independent in managing their own medications.
In both cases the medication must be in its original container and is clearly labelled. For prescription medication the label must have been printed by the dispensing pharmacy with the medication’s name, child’s name and details, GP’s name, date of issue, dosage and instructions and expiry date.
Good procedures, communication and training should minimise the risk of a medication error occurring; but there is still a residual risk. Consequently, school medication policies must also include a clear procedure for staff to follow in the event of an error. They should be supported and encouraged to be open, with a focus on preventing a more serious situation developing. Guidance for this scenario is to:
Managing and administering student medication safely is all about capturing and sharing key information. In this capacity, a software app could be a very useful tool for both holding information on student medication and parental/carer permissions. It could also handle recording and scheduling medical interventions - all in one central, accessible location.