Supporting young people with medical needs

This article has been written in response to the rising concern from our members over their responsibilities for children with medical needs.

The legal framework for teachers is clearly laid out by the DfES, however at the time of Rapport going to press CYWU officers are investigating as to whether this framework extends to play and youth workers.


LEA’s, schools and governing bodies are responsible for the health and safety of pupils and the law imposes duties on the employer. Other legislation, notably the Education Act 1993 and the Medicines Act 1968 are also relevant in dealing with children / young people with medical needs. In addition, the Health & Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974 places duties on employers for the health and safety of their employees and anyone else on their premises, including children. Who the employer is depends on the type of organisation you work for.

 ¨      The LEA is the employer in county and controlled schools.

  The governing body is the employer in City Technology Colleges, voluntary aided and grant maintained learning establishments.


¨      The proprietor or the trustees are the employer in some independent schools and play or youth centres.


The employer must do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety and welfare of employees. The employer must also make sure that others, such as pupils / young people, visitors etc are not put at risk. The main actions employers must take under the HSWA are to:   

  •  Prepare a written Health & Safety management policy.
  •  Make sure that staff are aware of the policy and their responsibilities within that policy.
  • Make sure that appropriate safety measures are in place.
  • Make sure that staff are properly trained and receive guidance on their responsibilities as employees.

The Medicines Act 1968 places restrictions on dealings with medical products, including their administration. In the case of prescription only medicines, anyone administering such a medicinal product by injection must be an appropriate practitioner (e.g. a doctor).

The DfES advise that it is important for the organisation to have sufficient information about the medical condition of the child / young person including side effects and special requirements. The department also states that no pupil under 16 should be given medication without his or her parents consent. Any member of staff giving medicine should check any written instructions provided by parents or doctor, the prescribed dose and the expiry date.

The NUT Legal & Professional Services Department has advised CYWU play workers who are expected to administer medicines to contact their full-time officials and examine individual contracts. Both the NUT and CYWU would be surprised if the contracts include an obligation to administer medicines, but even where such a contract exists then the union will endeavour to establish proper training and procedures.

Any member who, either under contract or voluntarilly agrees to administer medicines should ensure that he or she receives the proper and full training. Members are advised to ensure that the child’s GP or hospital doctors have prescribed the medication as proposed, rather than merely taking the word of a parent / carer.

The NUT Legal and Professional Services Department also advise that members should contact the GP / hospital with the permission of the child (if old enough to give such consent) or the parent / carer in writing, and bearing in mind that medication and / or dosage may change from time to time. It would also be useful to have signed confirmation by the child / parent / carer that they will inform you in writing should there be any change in type of dosage and that such information may be confirmed by you with the GP or hospital.

If the consent were not direct to you then it would not be unreasonable for you to seek written confirmation from your employer that the above written consents have been obtained, and that information is kept up-to-date. CYWU officials will provide support in seeking this clarification if required.

In a recent NUT briefing, it advises members that there is no legal duty on school staff to administer medicine or to supervise pupils taking it. This is purely a voluntary role and is recognised as such by the DfEE. Again, this applies to school staff, which may mean that the legal duty for specialist playgrounds or centre staff where children with disabilities that may include medical needs are the specific target group is different.

However, the NUT and CYWU advises that members who do volunteer to administer medicines should not agree to do so without first receiving appropriate information and training. The local NHS Trust or Health Authority is in a position to advise organisations on the source of support required.

The joint unions also advise that any member should be particularly wary about agreeing to administer medicines to children where the timing of its administration is crucial to the health of the child; or where some technical or medical knowledge is required; or where intimate contact with the child is necessary.  (This would include administration of rectal Valium, assistance with catheters or use of equipment for children with tracheostomles).

Most members are understandably reluctant to volunteer to administer intimate or invasive treatment because of the nature of the treatment, or fears of accusations of abuse. The DfEE state that no pressure should be put on staff to assist in the administration of treatment to do so. CYWU will fully support any of its members who do not wish to administer medicines or who feel that they are being unfairly pressured to do so.

Health Authorities normally designate a medical officer with specific responsibility for children with special educational needs. Some of these children may have special medical needs and they may be able to provide advice and training.

The DfEE will issue a good practice guide called “Supporting Pupils With Medical Needs” to any member who contacts Miriam Ryan on 0207 925 5529. This is aimed at school staff and teachers but has good guidelines for any organisation to follow

It goes without saying that if you are administering medication under the conditions outlined above, you still still rigorously ensure that your employer has fully and comprehensively insured you. You should ensure that you have a complete copy of the insurance cover.

CYWU will work with all employers to ensure that the best possible service is available to children and young people but this cannot be done when the legal position and safety of our members is compromised by the failure to give proper support and training, insurance and the lack of procedures.
















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