Scots council forced to apologise after pupil sunburnt on school trip

A mother complained to a council watchdog after her child needed hospital treatment for sunburn after returning from a school trip abroad. Picture Picturebay/freeimage
A mother complained to a council watchdog after her child needed hospital treatment for sunburn after returning from a school trip abroad. Picture Picturebay/freeimage
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A mother complained to a council watchdog after her child needed hospital treatment for sunburn after returning from a school trip abroad.

The parent, identified only Mrs C, said Moray Council failed to take “reasonable steps” to ensure her child would not get sunburned.

The complaint was partially upheld by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), which deals with complaints about local authorities.

The child’s mother said “reasonable action” was not taken when the severity of her child’s condition was established and her complaint had been handled unreasonably. But the ombudsman found the authority’s actions in preventing sunburn were reasonable even though they were not effective.

The watchdog added: “We were critical of a decision to allow the child to wear shorts and no sun protection when their legs were uncomfortable.”

The council said the child was only exposed to 30 minutes of sunlight and sunburn was not at that stage suspected. But the SPSO found failings in the council’s actions once the severity of the child’s condition was known.

The ombudsman said staff first took advice from a pharmacist before transferring the child to a local hospital. The patient, referred to as Child A, was “bandaged from thigh to toe”.

The SPSO said in its findings: “They took the advice of doctors at the hospital and also kept Mrs C and her husband informed until the group returned to the UK.

“We considered these steps to have been reasonable.

“However, the child was bandaged from thigh to toe and was unable to mobilise independently and (was) in need of a wheelchair.” The return journey home from the trip, which has not been identified, was 36 hours by coach.

The ombudsman concluded: “We considered that staff, who could see the condition Child A was in, ought to have explored with Mrs C and her husband other options for getting Child A home more quickly, taking into account the child’s dignity, privacy and comfort.

“We upheld this aspect of the complaint.”

SPSO asked Moray Council to apologise to the child’s mother and her husband for the “poor handling” of the complaint.

The council was also asked to apologise for failing to explore other options for the child to travel home once the severity of their condition was worked out.

The watchdog recommended staff be reminded of the council’s complaints handling procedure and the importance of providing an empathetic response to complaints. A spokesman for Moray Council said: “We accept the findings of the SPSO’s decision report and will, as requested, provide evidence that their recommendations have been implemented.”

Measures recommended by the NHS to treat sunburn include cooling skin by having a cold bath or shower, using lotions containing aloe vera to moisturise the affected skin, and taking painkillers such as ibuprofen.