Criticism of changes to educational provision at Bury st Edmunds hospital

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
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Changes to the way sick children are taught at West Suffolk Hospital have been met with fierce criticism.

Young people entitled to educational provision at the Bury St Edmunds hospital are now being taught from a pool of around 40 teachers instead of a permanent hospital teacher.

Suffolk County Council, which funds the service, says the changes were introduced following a meeting with the hospital on June 12.

Critics have hit out at a lack of transparency in the council’s decision making process and accused the authority of cost-cutting.

But the council says it made the changes to improve the service rather than cut costs, with the budget for its outreach service remaining unchanged.

Michael Mandelstam, a member of Sudbury Working and Acting Together for Community Health (WATCH), said most children on the hospital’s Rainbow Ward would not be eligible to receive tuition – as they must be unable to access mainstream education for 15 school days or more – so would lose out by not having a teacher based on site.

He said: “If it isn’t about cost cutting, why not leave a teacher there for 95 per cent of the children? If it’s not cost-cutting, why was there such a big rush? Why couldn’t everybody be properly consulted?”

Borough councillor Julia Wakelam said: “The service, until the change, appeared to have been working well, to the satisfaction of the parents and with the support of the medics – it’s a question of it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

A council spokesman said the new ‘1:1 service’, which the hospital agreed was ‘an appropriate way forward’, allowed it ‘to allocate a teacher that has the particular experience to meet a pupil’s specific needs’.

He said: “The teacher will support the pupil in the home, the hospital and liaise with their school and will therefore provide them with one point of contact and the consistency needed, particularly if they are in examination years.”

Cllr Wakelam said: “If it’s such a good deal why didn’t they say look what we’re doing to education in Suffolk, we’re ‘raising the bar’?”

Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers (NUT), said the decision appeared ‘highly secretive’ and he did not believe it had been thought through properly as the 1:1 service could not be as effective.

He said: “It should have been an open and transparent process. Why were we not consulted and informed there was going to be a restructuring?”

County councillor Sarah Stamp said a meeting had been arranged to address outstanding questions around how the decision was taken.

A hospital spokesman said: “We hope that there is no deterioration in the high quality of service we have previously enjoyed.”