Bury St Edmunds: Hospital ward could use vital teaching post

West Suffolk Hospital

West Suffolk Hospital

ACUTELY ill children could lose a vital education lifeline if a county-funded teaching role is axed from a local hospital ward.

Parents and councillors have hit out at Suffolk County Council for reviewing a position at West Suffolk Hospital’s Rainbow Ward, which is funded by the authority’s EOTAS (Education Otherwise Than At School) Service.

The job was reduced to a part-time role last year, but now the county is considering scrapping the position altogether.

Last night, a council spokesman said because most children only stayed on the ward for short periods, the authority was reviewing the need for a teacher in this case, but no final decision had been made.

But Sudbury parent Michael Mandelstam, whose child recently spent time in Rainbow Ward, said a decision to cut the role could “target and undermine” very sick children.

He added: “My child was only in the ward for a few days but I could immediately see how important the teacher was, and I cannot speak highly enough of what he did for her and others on the ward.

“His job is to liaise with schools and help children with things such as reading or specific exam work, but he also provides an important non-medical presence and offers a diversion for children who are in very stressful circumstances.

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“I understand that government guidance, and indeed Suffolk’s own policy, stresses the importance of the EOTAS service, including in hospitals. Even with the pressure to make cuts, I can’t see how it can be right to terminate a service like this one, which is aimed at helping vulnerable children.”

Craig Dearden-Phillips, county councillor for the Harwick division where the hospital is based, said he would be willing to contribute funds from his county councillors’ locality budget to see the service continue.

He added: “It is the county’s policy to keep council tax at record low levels but it would seem that in this particular case, ill children and their families are the ones who are going to have to pay for the policy. Council officers don’t have to cut positions like this - it is their choice. In my view, to even think of taking this education lifeline away from sick kids – who are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our society – is a pretty poor situation.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said the authority was currently in close discussions with West Suffolk Hospital regarding the EOTAS service for the Rainbow Ward. She added: “Discussions are still ongoing and as such no decision has been made regarding the future of the service. Ensuring appropriate levels of educational support according to the need of the patients is extremely important and this will form the basis of the review of the service.”

West Suffolk Hospital declined to comment as the review is ongoing.

Has your child been helped by the hospital teachers? Contact the newsdesk on 01473 324793 or email news@eadt.co.uk