Genevieve, 8, had her first allergic reaction at the age of two.
“She came into the room rubbing her eyes and she was all swollen. I didn’t know what happened. I took her to the doctor who gave her antihistamines. That resolved the issue at the time, but she was sick for around five days.”
After this, Judi and her family dealt with Genevieve’s multiple allergic reactions on a case-by-case basis. They gave her antihistamines to combat the reactions and experimented with her diet to try and work out what she was allergic to.
Judi eventually saw a nurse in Tallaght Hospital and was told Genevieve would need to wait four years to see a consultant.
A year later, Judi brought her daughter to an emergency department. Genevieve was having a reaction and Judi suspected it was to pesto, which would suggest a nut allergy. She brought the jar of pesto with her.
Judi says they waited from midnight until 6am for someone to see Genevieve only to be sent home — the girl’s reaction had lessened thanks to the antihistamines Judi had given her. The hospital said there was nothing more to be done and it would notify the consultant.
According to Judi, when she followed up on Genevieve’s place on the waiting list, she was told to get another GP’s referral letter — it had been so long since the first referral they required a new one.
Since then, a service under Dr Aideen Byrne has opened in Dublin. This month, almost six years after her initial reaction, Genevieve saw Dr Byrne and was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy.
When contacted about the issue, Tallaght Hospital said it was its policy not to comment on individual cases. In relation to services, a spokesperson said: “Prior to December 2013, all allergy patients were seen, tested, treated and educated at a clinical nurse specialist clinic under the direction of a general paediatric physician — as there was no consultant paediatric immunologist service.”
They also claim the current waiting time foran appointment with a consultant immunologist is 11 months and urgent referrals are seen “within weeks”.
Dr Paul Carson, who runs Allergic Ireland at the Slievemore Clinic in Dublin, said he was “taken aback” when he heard how long it was before Genevieve saw a consultant. “I’m not surprised the public waiting list is long, but nine months is probably the longest I’ve heard of.”
He cited a rise in allergies globally, calling it an “allergy epidemic”.
“One in four now suffer from allergies. This is a big problem, especially in children because they tend to have the more serious allergies. The system is swamped.”
The mother of schoolgirl Emma Sloan, who died after having an allergic reaction last year, has hit out at a new allergy law.
Caroline Sloan’s 14-year-old daughter died last December after she accidentally ate a peanut-based sauce in a restaurant. While laws have now been put in place forcing restaurants to list allergy alerts on all their menus, Ms Sloan says it’s not enough and more needs to be done.
As of December 13, every restaurant, pub, and café will have to inform customers if they are serving food containing one of a list of potential allergens. The 14 ingredients include nuts, shellfish, eggs, fish, milk, celery, and mustard as well as gluten, which cannot be tolerated by coeliacs.
The rule also applies to shop delis, contract caterers, takeaways, and school canteens.
The EU-wide labeling rule, which was announced in 2011, has recently been signed into law by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
It will be policed by environmental health officers who are already in charge of food safety inspections.