Staff at schools instructed not to “administer medication under any circumstances”

Are you confident that the staff at your child’s school could (and would) deal with an anaphylaxis emergency?

I was. The headteacher has assured me that everyone is trained in how to spot an allergic reaction and how to administer an EpiPen. In fact, the school nurse came in to give refresher EpiPen training to everyone in January. However, in light of what I have now learned about one school catering company, I will be double checking that “everyone” means everyone and there aren’t any external staff responsible for my son’s well being at lunchtimes.

Last October, I heard from an Oxfordshire nut mum whose children went to a school where Caterlink provided the school dinners. She was appalled to discover that Caterlink’s Nut Allergy Guidelines stated that staff should “not administer medication under any circumstances”:

Caterlink nut allergy guidelines emergency action

Indeed, Caterlink’s Allergy and Special Diet Guide (at page 15) advises staff “You could save a life”:

Caterlink

The “What to do in an emergency” section (at page 40) reiterates the message: do not administer medication under any circumstances.

Our nut mum contacted Caterlink, setting out her concerns (for full details, see Do your school caterers know their auto-injectors from their antidotes?).

The company has responded that:

“Caterlink staff are not required (by law) to administer or store Epi-pens in the dining room. There are also many variables of an allergic reaction and I do not wish for Caterlink staff to second guess when or if they should be administering an auto-injector.”

This has been challenged by our nut mum, who believes a policy that reads “staff are not obliged to give emergency medication”, would be an improvement on the existing “do not administer medication under any circumstances”. Pointing out that if Caterlink are concerned staff do not have the knowledge to deal with an anaphylaxis emergency and would be ‘second guessing’, then a well researched policy would be a step in the right direction.

The other points she raised have been acknowledged by the company, who pledge to make changes ‘in line with the upcoming Food Information Regulations’. Although they give no indication of what these changes will be or when they will be made.

Our nut mum is not impressed:

“Caterlink do not seem to realise the huge responsibility they have in keeping allergic children safe and the part a good policy and good attitude can play in this. It would be a simple thing to get the right information to staff and give them the confidence to act in an emergency, yet it appears to be low down on Caterlink’s list of priorities.”

You would hope that, in a life threatening emergency situation, people would do whatever they could to save a life. However, you only have to think of the death of Emma Sloan, after a pharmacist refused to dispense an EpiPen without a prescription, to realise that, for some, written rules and regulations will hold sway.

If your child’s school dinners are provided by Caterlink and you agree that it would be preferable for the guidelines to state that “staff are not obliged to give emergency medication” (rather than “do not administer medication under any circumstances”) then you might also want to raise this with your school and the caterer. That way, if there was an anaphylaxis emergency and only a member of the catering team was available to assist, there wouldn’t be a nagging doubt at the back of their minds that giving the EpiPen was against policy.

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