Article Categories: Speeches, Health
I rise today to speak on the critically important issue of anaphylaxis management in schools and, in particular, the availability of affordable EpiPens. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction which, according to Anaphylaxis Australia, usually occurs within 20 minutes of exposure to a trigger such as milk or eggs and can rapidly become life threatening. Therefore, it must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate and urgent medical attention. A crucial aspect of this is that the incidence of anaphylaxis due to peanut allergies, for example, has doubled over the past 30 years. It is becoming more prevalent and we therefore must become even more vigilant.
In July this year Mrs Sue Newton, Acting Principal of Beaumaris North Primary School in my electorate of Goldstein, copied me into a letter to the Victorian Department of Education regarding essential funding required to purchase Epipens. Beaumaris North Primary has 515 students and currently has 19 known children who are at risk of anaphylaxis. This is significantly higher than the norm. The school has a comprehensive anaphylaxis management scheme in place, consistent with the recent Victorian government guidelines that were acted on after strong lobbying from those in the community such as Anaphylaxis Australia and the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation. However, as Mrs Newton stated:
There are regular occasions … where current policies do not provide adequate safety for all children—not just those currently presenting as at risk of anaphylaxis.
Mrs Newton continued:
We would not be exercising our full duty of care if this group of unknown anaphylactic risks were not prepared for.
There are a number of occasions, most notably lunchtime breaks, whereby there are large distances to be covered for an EpiPen to be retrieved should an anaphylactic episode occur to a student without any pre-existing anaphylactic history. It has also been documented that two EpiPens have been required during some anaphylactic episodes.
In response to this, Beaumaris North Primary purchased four EpiPens at their own expense, outside their budget, so that their teachers could carry them on yard duty. Understandably, the school council at Beaumaris North has concerns about funding the expense to provide the EpiPens, as they require replacement on an annual basis. Beaumaris North assessed that they require six EpiPens annually, and with each generic EpiPen costing upwards of $135 it is unrealistic to expect our schools to fund this in full within already tight operating budgets.
After receiving this letter from Mrs Newton I contacted the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Jan McLucas, to consider Mrs Newton’s concerns and act on them. Minister Gillard noted Beaumaris North Primary School’s approach to the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development as ‘an appropriate course of action’ given that they are ‘responsible for managing schools and bear legal responsibility for the duty of care of their students’. In other words, she washed her hands of the issue. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, however, told Mrs Newton that there was no funding available for such purposes and that the matter lies with the federal Department of Health and Ageing in relation to the possibility of considering EpiPens under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for such circumstances. However, Senator McLucas noted that, while EpiPens are available under the PBS for those assessed as high risk, schools are not eligible to purchase EpiPens at PBS subsidised prices. All of this represents a very unacceptable case of buck passing.
PBS subsidised EpiPens at a rate of $31.30 or a concessional rate of $5 would significantly help schools, often on strained budgets, to be prepared. As well, there is a need for a truly national approach to training in the use of EpiPens and in their management. Nationally agreed guidelines would help to ensure that all teachers know the symptoms of anaphylaxis and are trained in the use of EpiPens in a way which satisfies health and education authorities. COAG should be the vehicle to see legislation and guidelines amended where necessary to ensure that the use of EpiPens by teachers is consistent and places safety first in clear, unambiguous terms. In circumstances where children’s lives are at stake, we must all exercise the utmost vigilance because one child’s life lost is one too many, as I am sure everyone inside and outside this House would agree.
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