Parents' battle over Derry school diet goes to court
The parents of a nine-year-old with a rare genetic disorder were forced to take legal action after being banned from feeding their daughter solid foods at school.
Although Nicole McBride suffers from Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT), she has no history of choking on her food and her parents are opposed to the decision.
A furious Shona and Michael McBride claim the Western Health and Social Care Trust introduced a pureed diet for Nicole at her Londonderry school without notifying them. St Eithne's Primary also failed to inform the McBrides of the new school diet, they allege.
They say it was only when they challenged the school about gaps in their daughter's food diary that it came to light she'd been barred from having school dinners alongside classmates – and had been refusing to eat the new diet.
"The child was starving and we were completely unaware," claimed Mrs McBride, who could have topped Nicole's intake up via an internal feeding tube.
The parents, who feed their daughter mashed solids at home, have been fighting for a year to get the diet – introduced by a speech and language therapist – overturned.
Mrs McBride explained: "My wee'uns are my life. I know what it's like to lose a child. I already have two buried in the cemetery and I don't want a third. If I thought Nicole was at risk, she would not get solid food.
"The therapist claimed the food Nicole was eating was no longer safe, but she has no history of choking."
The McBrides offered to go into school to feed Nicole, but this was refused. She has to face the indignity of being fed in the back of a parked mobility van.
The case has now ended up in the High Court.
Western Trust chief executive Elaine Way apologised to the McBrides "for any distress caused to your client and her daughter".
She wrote: "I do hope that you will be reassured that your complaint has been taken very seriously and by the action taken to arrange for a second opinion of the patient."
The second opinion by specialists stated: "Based on both observations of Nicole's eating... Nicole may be able to manage small blouses of soft and easy to chew foods for her pleasure."
In response to this, a trust spokeswoman said: "We cannot comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons."
St Eithne's principal Gerry Cosgrove said: "In all cases of special educational needs we follow the advice and guidance of the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) and the Western Health and Social Care Team. The health and wellbeing of our children is always paramount."
A Council for Catholic Maintained Schools spokesman said: "The school have assured me that they are following the advice provided to them by the WELB and the WHSCT... it would appear the parents are unhappy with the advice provided by the speech and language therapist that only a pureed diet is followed (given the child's condition which suggests that solid food can lead to choking and potential serious consequences) but have provided no contrary medical advice to say that the child can eat solid food."
A WELB spokeswoman said: "As St Eithne's PS is a maintained school, the WELB is not the employing authority in relation to this matter."