Why there is an urgent need for schools to reopen and provide regular attendance for children

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Dr. Katherine Burke, Specialist Registrar in Neonatology, Singleton Hospital, Swansea

Children – while thankfully spared the worst of coronavirus disease – have suffered enormously owing to the consequences of lockdown.

Access to education, routine and specialist health services, social care, play and important relationships – with friends, teachers and extended family – have all been heavily restricted, with consequences for all children and particularly for those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable.

As paediatricians, we have seen considerable delays to the assessment and diagnosis of children, often with devastating consequences. Visiting policies in postnatal wards and neonatal intensive care units has disrupted early bonding and parental mental health.

We have seen changes to the type of work we are undertaking, with more referrals for children experiencing mental health problems and eating disorders, and fewer children being seen for safeguarding assessments. Children have suffered collateral damage as a consequence of lockdown.

These sacrifices have been necessary to minimise risk to others. But as we move towards the ‘new normal’, the choices we make about the types of ‘risks’ we are willing to take bring into focus the aspects of society we value most.

School attendance should be at the heart of this. Schools afford children access to educational and social benefits, allow parents to return to work and enable the most vulnerable children to access the help and support they need to ensure their happiness, safety and equality of opportunity.

This re-engagement is not without ‘risk’, however, there is ever-increasing evidence that children do not present an exceptional risk with respect to the carriage and spread of this disease. We must acknowledge and work with the concerns of teachers and school staff.

 

Attendance

All of us who work with children – through health, social care and other services – must do all we can to support our colleagues in education to get children back to school. We need the tremendous financial and political agility we have seen applied to hospital building (such as Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig) and employment protection (through furlough schemes) to pivot to schools.

The aim should be regular attendance for all. This involves not just imploring schools to open, but providing workable solutions to practical considerations. Work between government bodies, teachers, parents and others is needed to provide and disseminate evidence-based information about the risks and benefits of school attendance.

Paediatricians have a role to play in this advocacy on behalf of children, and potentially also in reassuring parents with diminished political trust that school is safe for most children. We cannot face a situation in Wales in which children can go to beaches, theme parks and shopping centres yet cannot attend school.

What would this say about the value we attach to our schools and educators? We have such resource available in our paediatric medical community in Wales. Please engage this community in the effort to support what is right – getting children back to school.

This letter is written on behalf of junior paediatricians and specialists in allied fields across Wales including:

  • Dr. Christopher Course, Specialist Registrar in Neonatology,
  • Dr. Jordan Evans, Specialist Registrar in Children’s Emergency Medicine,
  • Dr. Zoe Howard, Specialist Registrar in Neonatology,
  • Dr. Hannah Davies, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Stacey Harris, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Assim Javaid, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Tom Cromarty, Specialist Registrar in Paediatric Emergency Medicine,
  • Dr. Emily Shand, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Rebecca Broomfield, Specialist Registrar in Paediatric Emergency Medicine,
  • Dr. Olga Eyre, Specialist Registrar in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
  • Dr. Bethan McMinn, Consultant in Community Child Health,
  • Dr. Sophie Constantinou, Paediatric Junior Doctor,
  • Dr. Buthaina Buzakuk, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Katie Cornelius, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Davide Paccagnella, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Elena Jones, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Celyn Kelly, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Caitlin O’Donavan, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Lucy Deacon, Paediatric Junior Doctor,
  • Dr. Kat Trigg, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Camille Roberts, Paediatric Junior Doctor,
  • Dr. Siwan Lloyd, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Sian Rigler, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics,
  • Dr. Naomi Eastwood, Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics.

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