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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C

A catastrophe waiting to happen? A child could die from allergies while in school

1 in 5 anaphylactic reactions happen in school but teachers not required to administer medicine

THERE IS CURRENTLY no requirement for a school to have an EpiPen on site or manage allergens.

A study of 139 primary schools found that 133 of the schools had children with allergies – however, there’s no consistent policy in place for these students.

The research, carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology, found that schools are not equipped to deal with allergic reactions as proper training is not provided for teachers – most teachers were shown how to administer drugs by a parent or paramedic.

Food safety lecturer in the Department of Food Science & Environmental Health Orla Cahill told that 20% of all anaphylactic shock reactions occur at school.

“There are a lot more people with allergies than before- it’s one thing knowing about the allergy but it’s another thing when people don’t know.”

A public health nurse said:

The threat of a child dying as a result on an allergic reaction in school is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Cahill added, “Teachers don’t know where to go to for advice as there’s no government-led policy and principals are fearful of the lack of guidelines.”

Teachers not required to administer drugs

The Irish National Teachers Organisation says, “No teacher can be required to administer medicine or drugs to a pupil.

Any teacher who is willing to administer medicines should only do so under strictly controlled guidelines, fully confident that the administration will be safe. It is wise to limit this willingness to emergency situations only.

“A teacher who does take responsibility for administering medicines takes on a heavy legal duty of care to discharge the responsibility correctly.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told that work is underway looking at training for teachers.

He confirmed that the department “is preparing a consultation process to consider making adrenaline auto-injectors more widely available”.

This review will explore, among other things, the use of guidelines or protocols by means of which non-health professionals may supply and administer adrenaline auto-injectors without a prescription.

‘Time of the essence’

There are 17 million people who suffer from allergies in Europe however there are very little statistics available for Ireland.

The study found that six children in a class of 30 had severe food allergies in one school in Roscommon.

Cahill said, ”If you’re in rural school and something happens, time is of the essence.”

Fourteen-year-old Emma Sloan died in December 2013 after mistaking satay sauce for curry sauce in a Chinese restaurant.

Her body reacted to the peanuts in the sauce and she died within 20 minutes.


Her mother Caroline is now campaigning for a change in the law which would allow EpiPens to be made available in schools, crèches and restaurants.

The Department of Health noted that, “There is provision in the Medicinal Products Regulations 2003 which permits pharmacists, advanced paramedics, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, in emergency circumstances, to supply certain prescription only medicines including adrenaline injections without a prescription.”

Food Safety Lecturer Orla Cahill said that, “Our children should be protected in every way possible in school.

Due to the increasing rise in serious allergies – especially among children – it’s ludicrous to consider that there’s no provision for children in schools.

“Teachers want to be able to help children- some schools have excellent policies but others have ad-hoc policies.”

Read: Mother campaigns for EpiPens to be widely available after her daughter died on O’Connell St>

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