The temporary closure of Wyvern Academy’s hydrotherapy pool was prompted by local authority advice which was subsequently reinforced directly to us by Public Health England (PHE) and the Department for Education (DfE).
Prior to this our own risk assessment had been carried out and the pool had been in use since the start of the partial school closure with absolutely no incidents or illnesses.
We have contacted the DfE on numerous occasions to try to get some clarity on their reasoning but they have not responded to our repeated requests, which have all apparently been ‘escalated’, so we are left with the incredibly short and unhelpful email we received in June stating that the rules for our hydrotherapy pool are the same as for swimming pools in general.
It would appear that our hydrotherapy pool use has been generalised with swimming pool guidance without recognition that the school’s own use is very different from a swimming pool and also very different from the context of a hospital hydrotherapy pool which serves the public.
As a special school we have been required to remain open and actively seek to accommodate many more pupils than other settings. As such social distancing from pupils, and often other staff, has been an impossibility, as it has been with use of PPE in many cases. This is understood in the special school world which presents a unique context.
There has been considerable debate among special schools with hydro pools in the South West and much confusion among many until we pursued the matter and shared the DfE response, such as it is. In line with other special schools we took the decision to close our pool, despite a lack of scientific clarification from the government or PHE, because we have been instructed to.
The reasons why we had assessed our pool as safe to use prior to this are as follows:
- There is no public use since Neptune suspended their sessions, hence a small closed group of users who used it as separate and distanced sub groups (pods).
- There is no less social distancing in the pool between pupils and adults than anywhere else in the school. Adult social distancing was observed.
- Social distancing in the changing rooms was easier than in many other places in school. Additionally pupils are being changed all over school anyway as part of their necessary daily care and the pool changing rooms were no different.
- The pool water is chlorinated to at least 1.50 parts per million (mg/l) free chlorine and a ph of 7-7.4 which is sufficient to kill coronavirus extremely rapidly. (Dr John V Lee, BSc PhD FWMSoc, FRSPH, FPWTAG Director, Pool Water Advisory Group. WHO technical brief http://www.dwi.gov.uk/2020-03-03%20WASH-IPC_EN.PDF ) Information provided by Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, 9th June 2020.
- As a hydrotherapy pool, the pool water is at 33 degrees Celsius, again a factor understood to kill coronavirus.
It is a matter of considerable regret that we have had to take this step as we know how important hydrotherapy is to so many pupils’ wellbeing. We continue to invite the government’s engagement in actual discussion of the science, though suspect there will be a national lifting of restrictions later in July or August.