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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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Sickle cell disease is a hereditary blood disorder caused by abnormal haemoglobin found in red blood cells. 

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Causes of sickle cell disease

  • In people with sickle cell disease, the shape and texture of the blood cells can change.
  • The cells become hard and sticky and are shaped like sickles, or crescents.
  • The cells die prematurely leading to a shortage of red blood cells.
  • This causes the symptoms of anaemia such as tiredness and breathlessness.

Symptoms of sickle cell disease

  • If you have sickle-cell disease, your blood cells can get stuck when moving through small blood vessels, stopping the supply of oxygen to parts of your body.
  • This is known as a 'sickle crisis'.
  • This can cause pain, tissue damage, and can lead to other serious complications, such as a stroke, or blindness.

Treatment for sickle cell disease

  • The only cure for sickle cell disease is a stem cell transplant.
  • The symptoms of sickle cell disease can be treated and people with the condition can learn how to help prevent a sickle crisis from happening.

Common triggers of a sickle cell crisis

  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Excessive temperatures
  • Excessive physical activity

Supporting students with sickle cell disease

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  • Meet parents/carers and where available the Sickle Cell Clinical Nurse Specialist to draw up an Individual Healthcare Plan. This will include what to do in the case of a sickle cell crisis. 
  • Ensure all staff are aware of adjustments agreed to support the student make the most of school.

Fluid intake and temperature

  • Allow students to have a water bottle available always. 
  • Allow students to use the toilet as required without fuss. 
  • During cold weather plan for the student to access an indoor space with some friends so they do not feel isolated.

Physical needs

  • Meet with parents/carers and the student to plan support around their physical needs.
  • Use of the school lift may be required
  • Allow the student to set their own pace during PE lessons.
  • If an outdoor PE session takes place on a cold day provide an alternative indoor PE activity.
  • Following swimming allow time to get properly dry and to dress warmly. 

School absence

  • If a student is absent for more than 2 days email or post-school work home. Falling behind can cause additional stress. 
  • Allow time to catch up with missed work.
  • Check in with a student on their return and help plan a catch-up schedule. 
  • If admitted to hospital contact the hospital school staff promptly with details of work.

School trips

  • Consideration needs to be given to allow more frequent toilet stops on longer journeys.
  • Find the location of the nearest Hospital Accident & Emergency department.
  • Get information and permission for the administration of medication in case of a crisis.

More information

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)