Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

A mother whose five-year-old son died after suffering an allergic reaction is spearheading a campaign to make schools safer.

Helen Blythe, 36, will attend a Parliamentary debate on the topic on Thursday – as her family prepares to mark the second anniversary of Benedict’s death.

The youngster was allergic to milk, eggs, nuts, sesame, soya, chickpeas and kiwi, and had asthma.

He collapsed at school on December 1 2021 and later died in hospital. An inquest into Benedict’s death is expected to conclude next year.

Helen, from Stamford, launched the Benedict Blythe Foundation and has drawn up recommendations to improve school allergy policies.

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She said: “That is has been two years since I last saw and held him is unbearable. We should be planning what presents to buy him, but instead we’re grieving his loss.”

Food allergies affect 3-6 percent of children in the developed world, according to the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Helen told the Daily Express that although guidance on dealing with allergies is available to schools, tougher legislation is needed.

The foundation is calling for all schools to be required to have an allergy policy in place, and for all children with allergies to have individual healthcare plans.

Every school should have spare autoinjector pens – something that would cost around £2million, Helen said.

And she wants to see all staff given training on allergy awareness and how to react in emergencies.

A petition launched by the foundation gained more than 10,000 signatures in two weeks.

Helen said school policies were currently “very much open to local interpretation”. She added: “Typically, schools that prioritise this are ones where senior leaders have got their own personal experience of allergies.

“A lot of schools are making what is a clinical decision about which child has the more severe allergy and only responding with an individual health care plan to the children that they perceive as having the more severe end of that allergy spectrum.”

Following Benedict’s death, Helen and her husband Pete received messages of support from other families, some of whom had experienced similar scares.

She said: “There has been policy and guidance but that has not made enough of a difference. We know that teachers and schools care about the pupils, so what is it that’s not bridging that gap?

“The only thing that can make that guidance and policy have more bite and be stronger is to implement legislation instead, and for it to be something that is checked, whether by Ofsted or another body.”

Helen and Pete will mark the second anniversary of Benedict’s death on Friday by putting up their Christmas tree with their four-year-old daughter Etta.

The issue of school allergy policies will be discussed by MPs at a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon.

Helen said the debate, backed by 15 cross-party MPs, was “one of a series of dominoes that we have to knock down to make this change”.

She added: “Everyone needs to have an awareness of how to prevent allergic reactions happening firstly, and then how to respond in an emergency.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We understand the seriousness of severe allergies and we are clear that children with medical conditions should be properly supported to enjoy a full education and be safe at school. All schools are required to make arrangements that ensure this is the case.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

 

“We understand the seriousness of severe allergies and we are clear that children with medical conditions should be properly supported to enjoy a full education and be safe at school. All schools are required to make arrangements that ensure this is the case.”

‘I hope his allergies were not a barrier’

Benedict’s first allergic reaction occurred when he was just four months old and ate a spoonful of baby porridge containing whey powder.

Within minutes he began choking, coughing and vomiting, and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.

Helen said she and Pete were “constantly on watch and vigilant”. But they did not want Benedict to miss out on opportunities in life because of his allergies.

Helen said: “We were very strong advocates for him learning how to manage risks himself and seeing that the world is full of possibilities.

“I didn’t want him to feel when he’s 18 and wants to go on a gap year that he couldn’t because he was so afraid of allergies.

“I wanted him to have the same opportunities to live as big and exciting a life as the next child.”

Helen researched menus before the family ate out. And when Benedict’s school had cake sales she baked multiple cakes suitable for him to ensure he had a choice like other children.

She added: “It was hard work but I hope that from his perspective he felt like his allergies were not a barrier to him enjoying life.”

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