4 common medical emergencies school staff should prepare for
We recently spoke to a sixth form college about how they manage medical emergencies. The process to identify a senior leader who knew all the trained first aiders and then get the trained first aider to the classroom when one of their students went into anaphylactic shock, simply took too long. Realising that many schools might experience similar challenges, we thought it would be helpful to identify 4 common medical emergencies in schools so preparations can be made to ensure a quick efficient response when your students or staff need medical assistance.
Anaphylaxis (allergic reactions)
According to data from the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, over two decades (1998-2018), food-related anaphylactic hospital admissions increased three-fold, a 5.7 per cent increase each year, with the largest increase among children under 15. Schools have made amazing progress in moving toward being allergy-safe environments, with changes to school menus, kitchen facilities and so. However, the reality remains that it is almost impossible to completely prevent anaphylaxis. The leading causes of allergic reactions are bee stings, peanuts, shellfish, milk, and eggs, in school aged children cow’s milk is the most common cause of fatal anaphylaxis (Conrado et al, 2021).
Recently, there has been particular concern around the increased use of latex PPE in schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst the percentage of children allergic to latex is quite low, it is something schools should be aware of. Astoundingly, given the seriousness of anaphylaxis the Youth Survey by the Anaphylaxis Campaign identified that 33% of adolescents prescribed adrenaline (an EpiPen) do not carry it with them! Students with a known allergy should have an EpiPen at school, in fact the most recent guidance suggests they should have two. Guidance for schools around this suggests that they are able to order two EpiPens without a prescription to keep in stock. The Anaphylaxis Campaign website has some good information for schools and links to resources to raise awareness of this serious but common medical issue.
Falls and head injuries
300,000 children visit hospital with head injuries each year and traumatic brain injury is the biggest cause of death and disability in children and young people. Lively playground games, PE, and climbing are the main reasons for falls in school. Falls can lead to strains, sprains, broken bones and minor or major head injury. According to NHS statistics, in just one year – 2018/19:
- 1,415 children aged 0-15 sustained a traumatic brain injury.
- 583 young people aged 16-25 sustained a traumatic brain injury.
- The majority had no loss of consciousness.
This is quite concerning as most people would see a loss of consciousness as a key indicator of serious head injury. It shows just how difficult it is for anyone who is not trained to assess whether a bump on the head is serious or minor, so any fall that injures the head must be closely monitored.
Download our set of awareness posters around 4 common medical emergencies your school should be prepared for.
Seizures and epilepsy
Epilepsy affects around one in every 100 people in the UK and Epilepsy Action reports that 1 in every 220 children will have a diagnosis of epilepsy. That’s an average of 1 child with epilepsy in every primary school and 5 in every secondary school. Some children have their first ever epileptic seizure at school. A seizure can result in falls, head injuries, and even choking if the student isn’t properly monitored. It is important that staff can access guidance on keeping students safe during and after a seizure. Most importantly, staff must be made aware that a seizure must always be treated as an emergency, even if the student has a history of prior seizures.
Breathing difficulties, asthma and choking
According to Asthma UK 1.1 million children (1 in 11) have asthma and every 10 seconds someone in the UK is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Choking is a leading cause of death among children, especially the under 5s, choking is even common in older children and adolescents. According to ONS data 2014-2016 around 40 under-5s are rushed to hospital every day after choking or swallowing something dangerous and 14 children under the age of 5 died as a result. It is important that school staff are aware of the seriousness of these conditions and how to help until a qualified first aider arrives.
When should you call an Ambulance?
This is a decision that an only be made on a case-by-case basis however it is important to note that children can often mask serious symptoms and their condition can quickly deteriorate. The NHS strongly advise you to immediately administer First Aid and call an ambulance if the person:
- Appears not to be breathing, is having chest pain, struggling to breathe, or breathing in a strange way -appearing to ‘suck in’ below their rib cage and using other muscles to help them to breathe.
- Has a severe injury that is bleeding heavily and you are unable to stop with direct pressure on the wound.
- Is unconscious or unaware of what is going on around them or experiencing weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.
- Has a seizure for the first time even if they seem to recover from it later. You should phone an ambulance if someone is having a seizure and the fitting lasts longer than 3 minutes.
- Has a severe allergic reaction it is important to administer their adrenaline auto injector (if they have one) and then phone an ambulance immediately.
- For a child: if they are burned and the burn is severe enough that you think it will need dressing – administer first aid and call an ambulance. Keep administering first aid – look out for signs of shock.
teamSOS can help
teamSOS reassures staff that the right help is on the way and empowers them to deliver interim support to students or staff until a qualified responder arrives:
- A simple ‘call for help’ button in the hands of every member of staff
- Response team ‘hunt groups’ ensure immediate specialist support for each type of incident
- Editable task lists make sure the correct procedures are followed for every incident
- Intuitive first-aid videos staff can follow until the right help arrives
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