Students at risk... as most primary and all-age schools cannot handle basic medical-emergency response on campus
Scores of students at State-operated primary and all-age schools across the island are being put at risk daily because of the failure of the Ministry of Education to ensure that health personnel and equipment are in place to administer even basic first aid.
While it is mandatory for health-care providers to be at early childhood institutions, and while most high schools have at least one nurse and basic emergency medical items, at the primary level, the treatment of the young ones seems to be left in the hands of principals and guidance counsellors.
For Patrice Wilson, a recent injury to her eight-year-old son at a Corporate Area primary school is evidence that the system needs urgent attention.
Wilson is livid that measures were not in place to take care of her child, who broke his toe two weeks ago. While the school is less than half an hour from the Kingston Public Hospital, the boy was made to wait in pain for an hour until relatives arrived at the school to take him to hospital.
"He fell down and broke his toe at school, and they (school administration) didn't even bother to take it serious," said an upset Wilson. "All that time they were saying that it was a sprain, and they were putting ice on it. They didn't think that the toe was broken, but there was a bump on the side of the foot."
"I am under the understanding that in a situation like that, the first thing that the school should do is take the child to the clinic or to the hospital. What if I wasn't there? What if I was away and was not able to get someone to take him?" asked Wilson.
It could be worse for other parents whose children are injured at other primary schools across the island.
"Right now we have a boy and girl on the same bed, and that is not suppose to happen. But both of them are sick, and there is only one bed. So there is noting that we can do," Lanel Smikle, guidance counsellor at the Bull Bay All Age School in St Andrew, told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
On a regular day Smikle spends her time attending, to the general needs of students, helping with teaching or assisting in the preparation of the students' lunches. In emergency situations, however, she assumes a different role - that of first-aid responder and 'ambulance' driver, when situations are more dire.
"Chick V was very bad for us. A lot of students fell ill, and sometimes we just didn't have any place to put students who got sick at school," said Smikle as she noted that the school has also had to deal with incidents of stabbings on the compound.
It takes five minutes to the nearest health facility from Bull Bay All Age, and Smikle is one part of the school's emergency response team, which includes other teachers.
At the St Benedict's Primary School in Harbour View, St Andrew, Jacqueline Dixon, principal, said that her institution operates under guidelines prescribed by the Ministry of Education.
According to Dixon, in the past two years, only two students have suffered any serious injuries at the institution. One girl broke her leg late last year, while a boy broke his hand about a year ago. Dixon said both students were taken to hospital and their parents called within 30 minutes of the incident.
Sophia Spaulding, principal at the Grants Pen Primary School in St Thomas, noted that while her school has a sickbay, there are no nurses there.
"If there is an emergency, we take them to the Yallahs Health Centre, which is about five minutes away, or the Princess Margaret Hospital or the Bustamante Hospital for Children, both of which are about an hour away," said Spaulding, who has been principal for five years. "But since I have been here, I have never seen a nurse."
A vice-principal from another school in St Thomas told The Sunday Gleaner that the sickbay at her school has been transformed into space for storage. "Luckily, we are close to the Yallahs Health Centre, so in any emergencies, we can take the students there."
When contacted, Dorrett Campbell, deputy chief education officer, said while sickbays would ideally be at each government school, some schools are not built with those facilities.
According to Campbell, in the case of an emergency, the principal must be informed, and the principal is charged with contacting parents immediately.
"If the principal assesses the case and determines that a doctor or hospitalisation is needed, he/she makes the necessary arrangements for the child to be escorted to the nearest health facility," said Campbell, adding that teachers have up to 72 hours to submit a critical-incidents report to the Ministry of Education's Safety and Security Unit.
The ministry, however, could not readily provide statistics regarding the number of critical incidents at schools last year.