Staff cuts hit childcare checks
Environmental health inspectors are carrying out fewer visits to daycare facilities and preschools due to staff shortages, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
The officers carry out annual checks to ensure hygienic and safe conditions at each premises before licences are issued in September but a public access to information request by this newspaper has shown that five government preschools weren't checked in 2015 (see below). Information on two others was not shared.
David Kendall, the Department of Health's director of health, told this newspaper: “The intention is they will be checked in 2016.”
Acting Chief Environmental Health Officer Susan Hill Davidson said her team was overstretched but was managing to carry out its “ever-increasing” workload with less than half the staff it had three years ago.
“Most of the daycares and the preschools are inspected annually,” she said. “Last year, there was a question over which government preschools were going to exist so they weren't on the regular pre-inspection schedule and then in the summer they are closed.”
Asked if staff cuts meant fewer checks on daycare facilities and preschools than in the past, she replied: “Yes, less inspections, but we have tried to work smarter.”
Mr Kendall added: “The resources are low [but] the environmental health team takes responsibility for the daycare quite seriously.”
The environmental health section of the Department of Health is tasked with ensuring hygienic and safe conditions are maintained at daycare facilities, as well as many other premises.
Each inspector has a geographical district to cover and those areas have expanded in recent years due to fewer staff. That means there is now just one senior inspector, in addition to Ms Hill Davidson, and four other inspectors, who cover the whole island between them.
“These are quite extended districts over what we have traditionally had,” said Ms Hill Davidson.
“The way we conduct inspections has changed quite substantially. Knowing that we are not going to get huge numbers [of staff] back quickly, if ever, means we have to work smarter. That's in line with our whole ministry. We are working much more on prevention.”
She added: “Any time anybody leaves, the post is, for the most part, frozen for two years. People are working twice the work. The work hasn't stopped. In fact, the work is ever-increasing. Last year, we had the America's Cup. This year, we have got Zika and new smoking legislation just coming in. That's another demand on the inspectors' time.” Inspectors carry out unscheduled visits to daycare centres and preschools and fill in an evaluation/inspection report, grading each facility with a score out of 100.
They have a 44-point checklist to tick off, taking in factors such as student to staff ratios, cleanliness, the safety of equipment and the number of staff trained in life-saving techniques.
Mr Kendall said daycare centres and preschools receiving a score of 69 or below would be likely to receive formal correspondence regarding the improvements they needed to make.
“If there was a critical infraction, it would be dealt with,” he said. “In the most extreme cases, we could close a premises.”
Ms Hill Davidson added: “Obviously, we can refuse a licence or take a licence away.”
She said inspectors were trained and ensured any “real problems” were dealt with swiftly, though follow-ups to their site visits to ensure compliance might not be formally recorded.
Our Pati request was for all records relating to environmental health visits or site inspections at the ten government preschools: Devonshire, Lagoon Park, Southampton, St David's, St Paul's, Lyceum, Prospect, St George's, Victor Scott and Warwick. About 400 four-year-olds are enrolled in the preschools each year. We asked for paperwork regarding safety inspections of classrooms and play equipment, as well as information on staff and student ratios, cleanliness, rodents and other vermin, and building safety. This request, along with a previous request we submitted for records relating to safety at all daycare facilities, revealed that the environmental health team had no central electronic database for storing health and safety records.
There are paper records of all inspections conducted by environmental health officers, filed individually by street address, but no easy way of accessing information for multiple sites or compiling reports.
Our earlier request regarding daycare facilities was refused on the grounds that the records would have to be retrieved manually and it would “cause a substantial and unreasonable interference” with the work of the department.
The preschool Pati request was successful, though the department only released records for eight of the ten preschools — Lagoon Park and Southampton were missing — and only the most recent report in the file for each. Mr Kendall said: “I think there is a gap in some of the record-keeping.”
He said the hope was that the environmental health section would get a new system for storing records, adding: “It would be nice to have a system which was a bit more interactive.”
Ms Hill Davidson said: “We are trying to get the funding for a database. We are hoping to get a database system that would be able to record information from officers [using handheld devices] in the field.”
She said the team's new way of working included training the custodians of government schools to self-inspect and keep on top of any potential health and safety issues. Training of custodians has taken place since the release earlier this year of the Ministry of Education's Score report, which highlighted safety issues and the dire condition of a number of public primary schools. “An annual inspection is really a very old-fashioned way of hand-holding,” said Ms Hill Davidson. She could not say how many complaints were received in the last year about health and safety at daycare premises, because of the lack of a database. But she emphasised: “We investigate every complaint.”
And she said the records released under Pati only provided a “snapshot” of each premises on the day they were inspected.
Fire safety issues revealed in Pati request
The Department of Health released health and safety inspection reports for eight government preschools in response to a public access to information request by The Royal Gazette. There are ten in total but nothing was shared for Lagoon Park or Southampton. The records showed:
• Devonshire Preschool was last inspected on September 30, 2014. The inspector reported that four of the six staff members needed to have their CPR certification updated. Other concerns listed included trees needing to be trimmed and a fly-screen needed for a window. The inspector wrote that hazardous material needed to be kept out of reach of children. Score out of 100: 84 (grade B).
• A report from a site visit on January 14, 2015 was shared for Lyceum Preschool. The inspector reported a problem with the water quality and “dangerous protruding parts — rotted wood, etc” on the lunch benches. The benches were removed by the following day and the water was retested on January 18 and found satisfactory. No score was recorded.
• Prospect Preschool was last visited on September 22, 2014.
The inspector noted all staff needed their CPR certification updating. Comments included that the fire safety certificate needing renewing, some floor boards needed replacing and the ceiling fans and windows should be cleaned. Score: 84 (grade B).
• St David's Preschool was last visited on July 2, 2014.
The inspector said wheelchair access was limited and should be improved and a play area fence should be repaired. Two members of staff did not have first aid and CPR certification. No score was given.
• St George's Preschool was last visited on June 23, 2014. The inspector noted broken taps and a broken sink in the bathrooms, as well as the possibility of dead birds in the ceiling space due to an entry way along the edge of the roof. Score: 87 (grade B).
• St Paul's Preschool was last visited on June 25, 2014. The inspector recommended replacing taps in the girls' bathroom and replacing an internal gate. No score was recorded.
• Victor Scott Preschool was inspected on September 23, 2015. All staff were found to have CPR certification. The only issue flagged was the need for a staircase railing. No score was given.
• Warwick Preschool was last visited on June 22, 2015 and found to be satisfactory.
Two of the nine staff members were CPR-certified. No other issues were flagged and no score was recorded.
* Five preschools are on the same site as a primary school and more information on the condition of those buildings was recorded in the Ministry of Education's Score report, released in February. Primary schools listed as in need of “immediate attention” included Victor Scott, Prospect and St David's.
• To see the Pati request, click on the PDF under “Related Media”