Worrying gaps in Australian ECEC allergy management, ECU researchers say

by Freya Lucas

October 10, 2019

A recent evaluation of allergy management practices for children undertaken by Edith Cowan University (ECU) has found what researchers termed “worrying gaps” with almost one in ten centres not requiring staff to undertake anaphylaxis training, in contravention of federal legislation.

 

Led by Professor Amanda Devine from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, a survey of 494 early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres across Australia (excluding WA) found that along with gaps in life saving training, almost 40 per cent of services store epi pens in locked and hard to access locations. 

 

For a child experiencing anaphylaxis, receiving adrenaline (epinephrine) via an adrenaline autoinjector such as EpiPen, is the first line treatment. The longer the delay in receiving adrenaline, the greater the likelihood of death. 

 

While the overall picture of Professor Devine’s research showed most centres having good practices, with 11 per cent of infants living with life threatening allergy, “even small gaps warrant concern and attention” she said. 

 

“The overall picture is that most centres we surveyed have good practices in place, but there is certainly work to be done to make sure that all centres comply with appropriate policies to best protect children with food allergy, who are in their care,” she added.

“When it comes to anaphylaxis every second counts, so it is vital that EpiPens are stored in locations that are easily accessible to staff, but out of reach of children, and that staff are trained in their use.”

Dr Devine said it was important to note that the rapid rise in the number of Australian children that have food allergies posed a challenge for early childhood education centres.

 

“We know that 11 per cent of Australian infants have a food allergy, which is significantly higher than a decade ago,” she said.

 

State by state

Victorian centres performed best in the survey, being significantly less likely to store EpiPens in locked locations compared to Queensland and New South Wales.

 

Queensland and New South Wales centres were also significantly less likely to provide anaphylaxis management training for their staff, compared to Victoria.

 

Informing national policy

National Allergy Strategy Manager Sandra Vale, who also contributed to the research, said the data showed there are gaps in the legislation governing food allergy management in the sector.

 

“The current requirement for staff who must undertake anaphylaxis training is inadequate and there is currently no requirement for food preparation staff to undertake food allergen management training,” she said.

 

“Managing food allergies in this setting is not easy and ECEC services need guidance and support to help them to put effective risk minimisation strategies in place.

 

“While EpiPens being stored in a locked location is concerning, what we really need to do is ensure that all staff are provided with good, evidence-based training around allergies and food handling so we can avoid the need to use EpiPens at all.”

 

The research, Food Allergy Management in Early Childhood Education and Care Services in Australia was recently published in Wiley and may be accessed here

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