Assistant cuts amid allergic ‘epidemic’

Richard Loh, the head of immunology at Princess Margaret Hospital and president of the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), told the Western Suburbs Weekly there was no doubt the number of documented allergies in Australia was increasing.

‘One-in10 children under the age of 12 months have a documented food allergy,’ Dr Loh said.

‘Many will outgrow it but about 6 per cent of school-aged children in Australia have a food allergy and that’s much higher than it was even 10 years ago.’

Last week, Education Minister Peter Collier said the Government would cut 150 specialist anaphylaxis assistant positions from kindergarten to Year 2 and move towards training staff using an online course, which teaches how to identify and respond to an anaphylactic emergency.

The Government’s announcement has horrified Floreat mother Suzie May, whose six-year-old son suffers anaphylaxis from peanuts and raw egg.

Mrs May said that while her son attended a nut-free school and only ate food in his lunchbox prepared by her, even she did not recognise her son’s anaphylactic reaction to an uncooked meringue during an incident last year.

‘He was walking, talking and breathing but had a cough and a hoarse voice,’ she said. ‘The symptoms were so subtle, it was very eye-opening for us and I think when it comes to the school it’s made me even more concerned about when he’s in the care of other people because (an anaphylactic reaction) doesn’t necessarily look like what you’d think it would look like.’

State School Teachers’ Union of WA President Anne Gisborne said the Government’s cuts were a short- sighted neglect of young people who were in potentially life-threatening situations and placed unnecessary expectations and workload pressures on teachers.

Mr Collier said WA was the only state that provided education assistants for students with anaphylaxis and would continue to fund the school’s supply of epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens).