Schools are facing a big rise in the number of head lice outbreaks this winter as a result of a “shortsighted” government policy that will hit children from low-income families hardest, teachers and head lice experts have warned. The Guardian reports
A change in NHS England guidance, rolled out over the summer as a cost-cutting measure, means GPs are now routinely prevented from prescribing any treatment for the parasites. Head lice are likely to become increasingly prevalent in schools over the next six months as a result, the health charity Community Hygiene Concern predicts.
“More children and their families will have head lice in the future. That’s just common sense. Not everyone can afford to repeatedly buy head-lice treatments, which are very, very expensive and can be ineffective,” said spokeswoman Frances Fry.
Demand for treatments typically peaks in autumn when children return to school, and the charity says GPs would usually prescribe hundreds of its Bug Buster kits at this time of year. The kits – a set of four specially designed nit and louse combs – cost the NHS just £4.92 each, can be repeatedly used by an entire family for up to a year and in clinical trials were found to be up to four times more effective than the more expensive chemical treatments sold over the counter.
However, since GPs were told to stop routinely prescribing treatments for head lice, the charity estimates that prescriptions have fallen by 90%.
In the near future, schools will be inundated with complaints about head lice, Fry predicts. “Children whose parents cannot afford the treatments will be victimised and bullied. Poorer children will be looked down on for causing the problem, and all the judgments and stigmas about nits will return.”
Teachers are also worried that they will see more frequent infestations in their classrooms this year – and that it will be the children from low-income families who suffer most. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This is a shortsighted policy that clearly hasn’t been thought through. If parents cannot get free prescriptions from their doctor, many will struggle to pay for over-the-counter head lice treatments and will struggle to treat their children. As a result, schools will likely have to deal with more frequent and harder to control outbreaks.”
Head lice are big business, with “lice clinics” charging up to £400 for two removal sessions. Over-the-counter remedies can cost as much as £13 for a single application, and it’s usually necessary to repeatedly treat the whole family.
Read how to get rid of nits without using chemicals Schools braced for head lice invasion
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