By Alana Mitchelson
PAKENHAM students will have regular free access to a doctor and healthcare services on school grounds as part of a State Government program.
Pakenham Secondary College has been identified as one of 100 pilot schools across Victoria to take part in the inaugural Doctors in Secondary Schools initiative.
General Practitioners (GPs) will visit the school as often as once a week, with students able to seek referrals to specialists for the help they need before it affects their studies.
One-quarter of the pilot schools are located in Melbourne’s growth areas and urban fringe to assist in meeting the demand for services created by unprecedented population growth.
Pakenham Secondary principal Ray Squires welcomed the funding as an opportunity to expand the support offered to students, and to help ease the load on parents and carers.
“A student’s good health is critical to their learning,” Mr Squires said.
“It is terrific to be able to expand the types of supports available to students to enhance their well-being.
“Having a GP at school working in conjunction with other available support services will offer an extended and complementary level of care for families and the community. Details of the program are still to be released, but we trust the result will be a positive move.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said healthy students learned better, stayed in school longer and achieved more.
“We know that young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are the least likely to see a GP,” Mr Andrews said.
“So putting doctors in schools will make sure these kids have the access to healthcare they need.”
Member for Eastern Victoria Region Daniel Mulino said the program would reduce the pressure on working parents and help students address health concerns early.
The Doctors in Schools Program has also attracted some controversy with concerns over it serving as a means of children circumventing their parents to obtain medical advice.
Shadow Minister for Education Nick Wakeling said his main concern about the program was the issue of parental consent.
“Once implemented, children as young as 12 will be able to access medical advice and treatment at school, including prescriptions for the contraceptive pill,” Mr Wakeling said.
“The Andrews Government has failed to clarify whether parents will provide consent – or even have knowledge – that their children will be accessing a doctor while at school.
“It is also unclear if the decision to have a doctor attending schools will have input from the school leadership and the parent associations.”
But a State Government spokesman told the Gazette that students enrolled at the pilot schools would only have access to the GP subject to providing mandatory consent.
The Andrews Labor Government provided $43.8 million for Doctors in Secondary Schools in the Victorian Budget 2016/’17. This would include $25.8 million for staff and operational costs, and $18 million to build consultation rooms on school grounds.
There would be no out-of-pocket expenses for participating schools, students or their guardians for consultations with the GP.
The first 20 schools would receive the funding from Term 1 2017, with a further 40 in Term 3 and another 40 by Term 1 2018.
The order of the roll-out is still being finalised, and Pakenham Secondary was yet to receive a timeline.