2nd October 2017 – Schools in the UK are now permitted to keep spare auto-injectors to treat pupils who develop a severe allergic reaction.
Previously, allergy 'pens' were prescription-only medicines issued to named individuals.
An update to the law permits school staff to use auto-injectors, such as EpiPen, Emerade or Jext, to administer a dose of adrenaline to a child who has previously been identified as at risk of a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, but who do not have their device on them. It could also be used because their auto-injector is broken or out of date, or if a second dose is required.
The change to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 followed pressure from a working group that included the Anaphylaxis Campaign, Allergy UK, the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the British Paediatric Allergy Immunity and Infection Group and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
A survey of more than 1,600 parents and 800 teachers found that over 99% of parents and 96% of teachers agreed that schools should be able to keep a spare auto-injector without a prescription.
A public consultation by the Department of Health later found overwhelming support for changing the law.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign said the legislation could save children's lives. The charity's CEO, Lynne Regent, commented: "We are sure that this will enhance the safety of severely allergic children in schools across the UK and provide reassurance for parents, carers and school staff."
The Department of Health's guidance on the use of adrenaline auto-injectors states: "Schools may administer their 'spare' adrenaline auto-injector (AAI), obtained, without prescription, for use in emergencies, if available, but only to a pupil at risk of anaphylaxis, where both medical authorisation and written parental consent for use of the spare AAI has been provided."
The change in the law applies to all primary and secondary schools in the UK, including independent schools. However, schools are not obliged to hold them.
An allergic reaction occurs because the body's immune system wrongly reacts to a substance perceived as a threat. This results in the release of chemicals such as histamine which cause the allergic reaction. In the skin, this causes an itchy rash, swelling and flushing. Many children develop breathing problems, a tightening of the throat and sometimes problems swallowing.
Only adrenaline is recommended for treating severe reactions, or anaphylaxis.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommends that anyone prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector should carry 2 devices in case they need an extra dose or the first device 'misfires' or is not used properly.
It says that in most cases, children and teenagers should carry their devices on them at all times so they are easily accessible.
Guidance on the use of adrenaline auto-injectors in schools, Department of Health, September 2017
Schools can hold allergy pens from the autumn, WebMD UK Health News, 18th July 2017
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