Press release: Senior doctor says perfect school attendance for children with chronic conditions "unfair and unrealistic"

Classroom (httpspixabay.comuserscoyot-2009089)

A senior doctor has said an expectation of 100 per cent school attendance for children with chronic medical conditions is “unfair and unrealistic”.

Dr Mark Beattie, a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at Southampton Children’s Hospital, said a campaign was needed to give those affected a “better deal”.

He spoke out following his team’s study, published this week by the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, which found more than a third of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) were classified as persistently absent.

In the UK at least one person in 210 has Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the two most common forms of IBD, which can cause fatigue, significant abdominal pain, malnutrition and frequent and severe diarrhoea with bleeding.

“School attendance is significantly reduced in children with IBD compared with the general school attendance in England,” said Dr Beattie, an honorary professor of paediatric gastroenterology at the University of Southampton.

“Almost 40 per cent of children with IBD are classified as persistently absent, missing 10% or more of school/college, which is significantly greater than the rate for school children in England at 11.2 per cent.

“This is largely driven by attending hospital for appointments and treatments, feeling unwell, access to toilets, keeping up with work and teachers’ understanding of their conditions and, as a result of these factors, any expectation of perfect attendance is unfair and unrealistic.”

In the study, co-led by paediatric gastroenterology nurse specialist Claire Barnes, 169 questionnaires were completed by children and young people aged between five and 17 years which showed 39.6 per cent of children with IBD were persistently absent from school and only 3 per cent had a 100 per cent attendance record.

Respondents felt improved school attendance may be achieved with better teacher and school education, better toilet access and hospital appointments after school.

Dr Mark BeattieDr Beattie (pictured right) said the onus was now on healthcare and education authorities to work together to find solutions and prevent school absence negatively affecting patients’ development.

“We know IBD affects attendance and that absence does impact development, while regular school attendance also helps to shape later life, so this is a problem that needs intervention,” he said.

“While our study focused on IBD, previous research into other chronic conditions such as cancer, asthma and heart disease have shown much lower attendance.

“We must campaign for a better deal for all children and young people suffering as a result and that could be via measures including appointments and treatments booked after school, clinicians educating teachers and schools sending work home when absent."

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Posted on Friday 17 January 2020