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Edinburgh Evening News
 
Edinburgh Evening News
Thu 27 Nov 2003
LICE WORK: A parent tackles the problem. Picture posed by model.
Picture: Gareth Easton

Epidemic fear after nitwits ban louse alerts

FIONA MACGREGOR

THEY have been the scourge of schoolchildren - and their parents - for generations.

But mums and dads now fear Edinburgh is facing an epidemic of head lice after schools were banned from sending out warning letters about cases of head lice.

Angry parents say they have been forced to de-louse their children on a weekly basis because the ban has left infestations to spiral out of control.

Schools were told to keep parents in the dark over cases of the highly contagious parasite in guidelines published by the Scottish Executive earlier this year. Ministers issued the edict because they feared warning letters could lead to infected children being stigmatised.

But parents say the move has had the unfortunate effect of children repeatedly catching lice from their classmates straight after they have been cleared of the problem.

Pauline MacKenzie, 35, of Colinton Mains Place, has two daughters at Oxgangs Primary School. She said, since the letters stopped, she and other parents at the school have faced a constant battle to keep their children free from head lice.

Ms MacKenzie said: "Since they stopped sending the letters home the problem has definitely got worse.

"Iíve spent more than £75 treating my kids over the last five weeks. They go to school clean and are coming home infected.

"Itís a major disruption in family life and Iím having to put chemicals on my kidsí heads, which I donít want to do."

"I am really disappointed no one will offer any help - somebody has to be responsible.

"My daughter wasnít well recently and she came into bed with me and I ended up with them."

Mother-of-three Jackie Boyle has eight-year-old twins and a five-year-old daughter at Oxgangs Primary, whom she has had to treat for head lice six times in the last two months.

Ms Boyle, 39, of Firrhill Drive, said: "Itís a big problem, but the school canít do anything about it. Itís just ridiculous. At least when notes were sent home parents would be aware of the problem. Itís going to become a really bad epidemic. Some parents just donít seem to check if they see their kids scratching.

"My sonís not so bad because he has short hair. I keep the girlsí hair tied right back, but it swings around. What can you do - keep them off school, shave their heads?"

Parent representatives say the problem is already rife in city schools and likely to become worse. Tina Woolnough, founder of pressure group Parents in Partnership, said she had written to the council asking them what the education department is doing to help combat the problem.

Ms Woolnough said: "They are creating more stigma by sweeping it under the carpet.

"Basically the council should be looking at this in a spirit of social responsibility and not just hoping it will go away."

Ms Woolnough, who has three children at Blackhall Primary School, said the problem their had become so severe that the PTA had taken matters into its own hands by sending round an information letter on head lice to parents of all pupils.

Nikki Sawrey, chair of Blackhall PTA, said the information letter did not refer to a specific problem with head lice at Blackhall, but strongly advised parents to check their childrenís hair.

She said: "Everyone needs to be alert and check, but the school didnít want to contravene any guidelines."

A spokeswoman for the cityís education department said it had not set official guidelines for schools on how to deal with louse outbreaks, but said it would recommend following Scottish Executive guidelines.

Councillor Jim Lowrie, Lib Dem education spokesman, described the situation as "political correctness gone mad".

An Executive spokesman said: "NHS Health Scotland is currently finalising a leaflet for parents which will provide accurate information about head lice as well as details of how to detect and treat head lice infection."
 

 

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