The parents of a Victorian teenager who died on school camp say they are concerned Australian schools and the wider community are failing to realise that food allergies can kill.
A Victorian Coroner found Melbourne’s prestigious Scotch College had failed in its duty to ensure 13-year-old Nathan Francis’s health and welfare.
The peak support group for allergy sufferers, Anaphylaxis Australia, says a national approach to allergy education is desperately needed.
It is urging the Federal Government to step in to address what it says is the “chaotic” implementation of guidelines designed to protect children with severe food allergies.
Nathan was on his school cadet camp in 2007 when he ate a mouthful of the peanut satay in his ration pack.
His parents had warned the school and army personnel of his severe peanut allergy.
On Friday, Victorian Coroner Audrey Jamieson found the school’s teachers had failed to comprehend the serious nature of peanut allergies and that there appeared to have been a lack of respect and even prejudice towards boys with special food needs.
Nathan Francis’s father, Brian Francis, says schools and the broader community are still failing to recognise that allergies can kill.
“The sad truth is that since the 2007 Scotch College camp on which Nathan died, there have been five other teenagers who have lost their lives across Australia from allergic reactions,” he said.
“If Scotch College and other schools had learnt any lessons from that tragedy of Alex, I would not be standing here today and Nathan our son would be at university,” he said.
“Scotch College could have so easily have prevented Nathan’s death.”
Coroner Audrey Jamieson noted that Victoria is currently the only state with laws in place dealing with anaphylaxis management in schools, which came into effect the year after Nathan died.
But Anaphylaxis Australia says those laws are not enough to protect children with allergies.
The group’s president Maria Said, an expert witness at the inquest into Nathan’s death, says it is unfortunate the Coroner’s recommendations do not always lead to change.
“Unless you have a parent that’s driving allergy and anaphylaxis management, despite the legislation management plans aren’t written up and it’s still the parent in the background – especially in high schools,” she said.
“We’ve had four coronial inquests into the deaths of people either in school, childcare or as a result of buying food at a café.
“Soon after the inquest we find that there is a pick-up by the government departments and there’s a focus on trying to do better, but after a year or two there is complacency.”
Ms Said says a national approach to allergy management is needed.
“I think it’s about governments really acknowledging food allergy as a public health issue and putting money into structured education and training across the country,” she said.
“Whilst there are certainly people and government departments that are trying to progress it and bring it into line, it’s in chaos.”
“All of these deaths were preventable.”
Mr Francis says at the time of his son’s death, publicity was rife over the death of a four-year-old boy who died after eating peanuts at his kindergarten.
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