Cardiac Screening: At the heart of student wellbeing

An interview with Justine Mahon, Nurse Manager for Sedbergh School & Sedbergh Prep School as featured in Independent Schools Magazine – May 2022

Justine Mahon, Nurse Manager at Cumbria’s Sedbergh School explains why she believes cardiac screening in young people is so important and why it’s always been a key element of Sedbergh’s commitment to maintaining the health and wellbeing of students…

“We’ve been working with Cardiac Risk in the Young’s [CRY] screening team since 2016 and over that 5-year period, I know that a number of students have been identified with a potentially serious problem which warranted further investigation. And that is exactly why we’re so committed to providing this service and, in my opinion, will continue to do so.

“The statistics are scary – 12 young people every week in the UK will die suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition and in many of those cases there won’t have been any signs or symptoms. So, I believe it’s really important that our students are offered this simple and non-invasive test. Here at Sedbergh, we encourage our students to be active and involved in all aspects of school life, which is a really positive ethos – but we mustn’t forget that it’s also our role to inspire them to look after and value their health. Teenagers often lead very busy lives and perhaps think of themselves as somewhat ‘invincible’ when it comes to making time for their wellbeing, so ensuring that health checks, such as cardiac screening, is accessible to them is really key.”

One of the secrets to Sedbergh’s success in terms of screening uptake amongst its pupils aged 14 and above is that the school has a strong heritage of looking after the heart health of students.

Justine explains; “For many, many years, we’ve held a pretty challenging event, known as The Wilson Run – 10 miles across the Fells and tough terrain. We were fortunate to have a very progressive and knowledgeable GP based at our local medical practice (which boasts a separate section for the students of Sedbergh School) and from there, we were able to offer basic ECG testing for pupils taking part in the run. However, when that particular GP moved on from the Practice, we knew we wanted to continue with this vital provision, and that’s when we reached out to CRY. At around this time, a student also experienced a serious cardiac event, so we were left in no doubt that we had a responsibility to carry on offering annual screening for eligible students and that’s when our successful partnership with CRY began.

“I’ve been involved from the outset, and I have to say, it’s such a ‘slick set-up’. Schools just need to provide the venue and help with promoting the session to students but otherwise, CRY bring all the equipment and expertise – it couldn’t be easier.

“We’ve got to know the CRY team over the years and really look forward to them coming up, usually at the start of the Autumn term – and I like to think we make a real fuss of them! Both parents and pupils are now really aware of CRY and the benefits of cardiac screening in young people so there’s never an issue filling up the slots once booking opens. For the most part, the ECG testing service offers reassurance and peace of mind – but in the rare occasions when a potential problem is identified and a student is referred for further investigations, it really brings home to us all why cardiac screening is so important and why our efforts are so worthwhile.

“I would absolutely encourage other schools and Nurse Managers within the independent education sector to explore engaging with CRY’s screening service as a matter of priority. It’s an extremely well-run and efficient service and I really do believe we have a responsibility to protect and look after the heart health of our young people (and if I hear of any of our younger members of staff, aged under 35 who might have slipped through the net, then I encourage them to head over to the Medical Centre to be screened, too!”)

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