Teachers say scheme to give asthma inhalers to schools 'a secret'

Teachers have described as “a well-kept secret” a scheme that allows schools to obtain asthma inhalers for emergencies, writes Evelyn Ring.

No school has received an emergency asthma inhaler for first-aid kits, under a scheme established two years ago by then health minister, Leo Varadkar.

Chief executive of the Asthma Society of Ireland, Averil Power, said the failure of the scheme, combined with some teachers’ reluctance to administer asthma medication, was putting children’s lives at risk.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation reacted angrily, describing Ms Power’s comments on teachers as “wide of the mark”.

INTO president, John Boyle, said there was no reluctance on the part of schools to administer medication. “The thousands of children who attend school regularly, with a range of conditions, are proof of that,” he said.

Describing the scheme as “a well-kept secret”, Mr Boyle said no information, equipment, or training had been provided to schools regarding this scheme.

Mr Boyle said that given the 20% prevalence of asthma in schools, the inhalers should be sent to all schools, as a matter of course.

Ms Power, meanwhile, said several children in Britain had died from fatal asthma attacks at school in recent years.

“It is essential we do everything we can to avoid a similar tragedy here,” she said.

She said the scheme that allowed schools, sports clubs, and other community facilities to get inhalers for their on-site first aid kits was a positive move.

However, last year, the society warned Health Minister Simon Harris that the scheme’s conditions made it unworkable and resulted in schools not taking it up.

In October 2015, Mr Varadkar had signed regulations that allow prescription-only medicines, including asthma-relieving salbutamol, to be administered by trained people in emergency situations.

However, the organisations must first register with the Health Products Regulatory Authority and have a member undergo a training course accredited by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council.

Mr Harris confirmed, in a written Dáil reply to Fianna Fáil’s Declan Breathnach, that while seven organisations were registered, none of them appeared to be schools or sports clubs.

The Asthma Society’s medical adviser, Prof Richard Costello, said the minister for health should make it clear to teachers that they should not be reluctant to give a child reliever medication in an asthma emergency.

Prof Costello said the potential side-effects, such as shakiness and increased heart rate, were minor and temporary.

“Up to eight puffs of salbutamol can safely be taken in one day. Delay in taking medication, on the other hand, could cost a life,” he said.

The department, meanwhile, said the legislation did not change the ‘good Samaritan’ rule that allowed people to help someone in distress to take a medicine prescribed to them.

This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.


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