Tuesday 21 November 2017

Eilish O'ReganHealth Correspondent

Children who need to see an allergies specialist are facing long delays for an appointment in hospital clinics.

According to Professor of Paediatrics in UCC, John Hourihan, Ireland has far fewer allergists than America or European countries.

"Finland, with approximately the same population as Ireland, has 100 paediatric allergists. It is also difficult to access allergy services in Ireland," says the professor.

"The paediatric allergy clinic in Cork University Hospital is the largest in the country and I personally receive twice as many referrals per week as all the other services in the hospitals.

"My service's wait times are all in breach of HSE guidelines and I have no idea how to fix that. Waiting times for the allergy clinic in Cork are at least one year for routine appointments and three years for diagnostic food challenges.

He was addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children where he was making a case for the wider availability of adrenaline injectors - a treatment for potentially fatal complications which can arise after someone with an allergy to a food such as peanuts, can develop.

It recently emerged that the number of people who have to be admitted to hospital suffering food allergies is on the rise.

There were 65 admissions to hospitals across the country last year to treat the effects of food allergy, compared to 44 nearly a decade ago.

The number of people diagnosed with anaphylaxis shock caused by a potentially fatal reaction to certain foods is not routinely available. Most are treated outside hospital by receiving an adrenaline injection.

Prof Hourihane said anaphylaxis is likely to become more common as medical care moves towards the gradual introduction of allergenic foods into the diets of children and adults, trying to encourage the development of tolerance.

He is in favour of making adrenaline injectors more widely available, backed up by trained first responders who have been taught how to administer the treatment.

Since the tragic death of Emma Sloan (14) from anaphylaxis in Dublin last December, he had received details of 36 more cases of survived anaphylaxis in children nationwide.

The teenager went into anaphylactic shock and collapsed and died on a Dublin street after mistakenly eating a peanut-based sauce which she was allergic to.

Her mother Caroline is now campaigning for life-saving adrenaline pens to be accessible in public places after she was refused on during Emma's ordeal.

"More cases are inevitable as is another avoidable death inevitable. Continuing legislative inaction could expose the State, its ill-equipped schools, and its health-care providers to liability in such an event," Prof Hourihane warned.

Peanuts are the leading cause of food-related anaphylaxis. Others include various types of nuts, milk, fish, seafood, eggs and some fruit.

Some of the symptoms include itchy skin, swollen eyes, feeling light-headed, narrowing of the airways which can cause wheezing and breathing difficulties and vomiting.

Prof Hourihane added: "The gap in Irish legislation relates to the administration by non-medical staff of adrenaline to people for whom that adrenaline is not prescribed.

"The United States was able to solve this and there's no reason why the Oireachtas can't do the same."

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