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Schools told to stop using more than 50 sanitising products following government review

The Department of Education has told schools that they will be provided with funding to obtain new supplies.

Image: Shutterstock/gemphoto

Updated Oct 29th 2020, 7:47 PM

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education has issued an urgent notice to schools that a further 52 sanitising products have been removed from its approved list following the recall of Virapro sanitisers before the mid-term break.

Multiple types of wipes, hand sanitisers, soaps and detergents have been removed from the approved list following a review from the the Departments of Education and Agriculture of biocidal products in use as PPE in schools.

This comes despite the Minister for Agriculture saying last weekend that there was not “any question or any sign of there being issues with any other hand sanitiser”. 

Schools with stock of the products that have been taken off the list have been advised to no longer use the products and to “store them securely until collected by the supplier”.

The Department of Education has told schools that they will be provided with funding to obtain new supplies.

In a statement, the department said that the “Education Procurement Service has engaged with suppliers on the [PPE] agreement in the last few days and there is sufficient stocks available for schools to order”.  

Schools seeking new product to replace stock should contact any of the suppliers on the agreement directly to process orders,” the department said.

“The Department is working with suppliers to ensure that stock is provided to schools in time for reopening on Monday 2 November where needed.”

“Suppliers are ready to prioritise school orders they receive.”

17 types of hand sanitisers have been removed from the approved list, along with five types of hand sanitiser refills.

Eight types of hand soap, eight detergents and 14 types of wipes have also been removed from the list.

172 products were assessed in total under the review.

Following the removal of some products, and the addition of others, 120 products are currently available for schools to use.

Some schools were forced to shut on the last day before the mid-term break due to a recall of Virapro sanitisers that were in use in multiple schools.

The sanitisers had been in use in schools, health, and retail settings, with over one million Virapro sanistiers recalled from health service locations.

On Sunday, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said that no issues had been identified with sanitisers other than Virapro, which had been recalled.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week in Politics, McConalogue said: “There isn’t any question or any sign of there being issues with any other hand sanitiser.”

Schools received communication from the Department of Education today to inform them of the new changes to the approved list.

Pat McKenna, the principal of Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle, North Dublin, said that his school received an email at 16:28.

In a statement, the Department of Education said that it is removing 43 biocidal and 9 other products from the approved list for schools because it “has not been possible to satisfactorily confirm their registration status as part of the review”.

“These products will not be included in our approved list for schools until their registration status has been confirmed,” the department said.

“The Department has no evidence that these products are unsafe.”

The department has told schools that are impacted by the removal of products that they will receive funding for an Aide for two days who will assist with handling the issue.

 The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said that the removal of the products from the list was a “necessary” decision.

TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie said that “while we recognise and regret the disruption that this will cause, the TUI believes that recalling the products is the necessary and correct decision”.

Gillespie said that the use of “defective or sub-standard products” must be “eliminated” in order to protect health and safety within schools.

We want real security, not the illusion of security, for our members, their students and their families.”

“We would urge the Department to ensure that replacement products of the required high standard are supplied to schools as a matter of urgency so that school opening can be sustained,” he said. 

Opposition parties have reacted strongly to the announcement, with many saying that the department must be scrutinised for its handling of the issue.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that informing schools of the changes to the list just days ahead of reopening after will mean that schools will be “scrambling to find replacements”.

“Indeed, given the range of products involved, then it may be even more difficult that it was with Virapro. This is a huge number of items from a list that schools were actively encouraged to buy from,” Ó Laoghaire said.

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“I understand that all sanitiser providers were asked to provide product samples which were then assessed and evaluated by a team with the necessary technical competence,” he said.

If that happened, then how did these tests fail to identify that some products such as Virapro were actively harmful? In the case of several other products, the paperwork wasn’t in order. Does the Department have any comeback against the companies?”

The Social Democrats have said that Minister Norma Foley should come before the Dáil to account for the changes in the approved sanitiser products.

Gary Gannon, the Social Democrats’ education spokesperson, said that this “latest development is devastating to the morale of school communities and further undermines confidence in the Department of Education”.

Gannon said that a guarantee is needed that safe replacement products would be provided to schools in time to reopen on Monday.

The Minister for Education must come into the Dáil next week and demonstrate some leadership – hiding away from scrutiny is no longer acceptable.”

Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that the “latest debacle” raised “questions of competency for the Department of Education and whether it is fit for purpose and capable to safely steer schools through the Covid crisis”.

“We need to know who knew what and when, if the Minister was aware of the scale of the problem before today and if so, why she failed to inform the Dáil,” Ó Ríordáin said.

“We also need an explanation as to why the Department’s internal controls managed to allow so many products that ‘cannot be considered fully safe’ into our schools.”

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