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November 2018
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Millions of lost school days in the UK could be avoided

A British manufacturer has teamed up with a nursery school owner to raise the standard of hand hygiene in educational settings after it was revealed millions of school days are missed each year due to avoidable illness.

Research also shows the spread of common bugs and infections throughout schools costs the UK economy millions of pounds and forces thousands of teachers to regularly take time off.

However, many of these illnesses could be avoided by simple improvements in hand hygiene. Donna Row, who runs the Yorley Barn Nursery in Suffolk and DaRo UV Systems – which makes hand hygiene inspection cabinets used by NHS organisations throughout the UK – have now joined forces to raise awareness of the importance of hand hygiene in educational settings.

Mrs Row decided to review her nursery’s hand hygiene policy during the recent swine flu outbreak and approached DaRo UV Systems after reading how its hand hygiene inspection cabinets had played a vital role in the reduction of hospital superbugs such as MRSA. The pair decided to carry out some research – which included gathering facts and figures from the Department of Education and the Office of National Statistics – and were startled by their findings:

  • Department of Education statistics show 58,90,790 school days were missed by children in England in 2009/2010 due to them being absent and the overwhelming majority of absences were due to sickness. The top five illnesses which cause children to miss school are the common cold, sore throat, stomach bugs, ear infection and conjunctivitis. These illnesses could be avoided if stringent hand hygiene practices were in place and implemented, meaning millions of missed school days could be avoided.
  • The Department of Education also revealed around 300,000 teachers take sickness leave each year, which equates to around 2,700,000 school days. It is estimated around half of staff sickness is also due to common infections, such as colds and stomach bugs. The annual cost of supply teachers and support staff to cover for sick days is around £3m.
  • Sickness in school environments also has a significant impact on the UK economy. A 2005 report by the Office of National Statistics estimated the cost of absence from work to the UK economy to be £11.6b. The same reports shows evidence that parents take more time off work than those with no dependents, as they often need to care for sick children.

    Julian Cant, General Manager at DaRo UV Systems, said: We have been astounded by the results of our research. It is quite clear the spread of infections in schools causes children to miss school unnecessarily, forces teachers to take time off work and costs the UK economy millions of pounds.

    -We know from our experience within the NHS that improved hand hygiene measures can dramatically reduce the spread of infections and cross contamination. Microbiologists and infection control experts now recognise without any doubt that stringent hand hygiene procedures will reduce infections and this is why we have seen such a dramatic decline in hospital superbugs, such as MRSA. Clearly, the educational sector needs to follow the example of the NHS and introduce comprehensive hand hygiene policies.

    Together with the Yorley Barn Nursery the company has developed an innovative hand hygiene educational support package called Buster, which is being offered to nurseries and primary schools across the UK.

    The Buster packs use cartoon characters to take children on a fun, educational journey about the importance of hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infections. The packs use an ultra-violet light ‘glow box’ to ensure children are using the correct hand washing techniques. A special glitter lotion is applied to the hands and then washed off. Hands are then placed under the colourful Buster ‘glow box’ and any remaining lotion will fluoresce showing any flaws in the hand washing process. The Buster packs also come with exciting, fun-packed posters, stickers, certificates and an interactive activity book to teach the children about the importance of hand hygiene.

    Donna Row said: It is clear many agencies are trying to re-educate parents and teachers of the importance of thorough hand washing, but until now there was no actual complete educational and support package, such as Buster, available to schools and nurseries. We are already using the Buster pack at Yorley Barn and the children love it, they really engage with the characters and have a lot of fun learning how to wash their hands properly.

    The safety of our children is always paramount so it is vital they understand the importance of hand hygiene. We believe the Buster package could significantly reduce the amount of time both pupils and staff miss from school.

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