The country’s foremost food allergy expert has hailed as akin to “discovering pencillin” and a “world first” the government decision to legislate to allow trained members of the public administer life-saving medicines in emergency situations.
Professor Jonathan Hourihane, head of the department of paediatrics and child health at University College Cork, had been on the verge of introducing EpiPens on campus at UCC five years ago, but the pilot was put on hold amid concerns about administering a prescription-only medicine to a person who had not had that medicine prescribed.
“We had everything in place. We had 50-60 people trained. We had protocols in place. We even had a letter of comfort from the insurers. But a legal issue arose as to whether we, as trained medical prescribers, would be held liable for any adverse outcome,” Prof Hourihane said.
He has been lobbying since for a change in the law to allow their life-saving initiative to go ahead and had met with Health Minister Leo Varadkar earlier this year. “But we didn’t hear back and about three months ago, we decided to abandon it,” Prof Hourihane said.
Now however, UCC is on course to be the first university in the world to have EpiPens on campus. “I can’t tell you what this means to me. It is overwhelming because for the first time people with food allergies will have a safety net in the community. This is one of the most important days of my professional life. It’s like discovering penicillin,” Prof Hourihane said.
In 2013 Dublin teenager Emma Sloan, 14, died on O’Connell Street after a pharmacy refused to give her an EpiPen and she did not have her own with her.
The new laws will also allow the public to administer glucagon for diabetic hypoglycaemia, salbutamol (treatment of asthma attacks), glyceryl trinitrate for angina (severe chest pain), naloxone (treatment of opioid overdose) and entonox (management of severe pain).
Mr Varadkar said he would be allowing organisations such as colleges, workplaces and sports venues to hold emergency “rescue” medicines and arrange for staff to be trained in their use.
The Department of Health said 16,722 people died here after suffering a heart attack from multiple causes between 2007-2013. There were 359 deaths following an acute asthma attack, 17 from hypoglycaemia, and four from severe allergic shock.
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