Last week was UK Allergy Awareness Week and there was a lot of press surrounding the rising number of people, particularly children suffering from allergies.
On Monday there was an article by Jo Willey of the Daily Express, quoting a report by Allergy UK that stated that ‘Health chiefs are failing allergy sufferers by providing woefully inadequate NHS resources’.
It also quoted the worrying statistic that the UK has ‘the highest prevalence of allergies in Europe and one of the highest in the world’. It also claimed that ‘Half of British children suffer from an allergy’ yet ‘training in the field is poor, diagnosis is slow and treatment is underfunded’.
Regular followers of this blog will know that it took me 3 years to get Zac tested for the suspected allergies and I had to resort to paying for a private appointment in order to get to see Dr Adam Fox, who was awarded ‘Paediatric Allergist of the Year’ in 2007 by Allergy UK and is one of a handful of UK doctors with recognised higher specialist training in this area.
Before seeing Dr Fox we had been seen by every GP at our local practise and yet none offered to do the basic blood tests which could have confirmed his allergies. I had to beg for referrals to paediatricians, we were ‘dismissed’ by the first hospital and then the second and regularly turned down for an appointment by the third – until I got the national press involved and then ‘we were in’.
So this article confirms my worst fears, I am not alone. Many other parents are having the same fight and this has now come to the attention of Allergy UK and they are taking a stand to change this. So I am writing this post to help raise awareness of their work and hopefully gain some support for their campaign.
Allergies can seem trivial, compared to other conditions and steps can be taken to avoid reactions – but it is crucial that you know what you are dealing with in the first instance and in our case, too many of the doctors we met seemed to be happy with my anecdotal evidence and no-one wanted to carry out simple to tests to confirm or rule out any allergies. I found this very disturbing, especially as the first paediatrician did concede that ‘because of his family history it is likely that he is simply highly atopic and may grow out of these conditions’. So he acknowledged that he was likely to have allergies, but didn’t feel it necessary to find out what they were!
So with very little dietetic support, and just a little cautionary advice ‘probably best to avoid nuts and eggs, just in case’ – I have spent the last three years trying to ‘protect’ him and feed him and hoping that he is not suffering any vitamin deficiencies as a result of his highly restricted diet.
As it turned out, once we were finally tested, he was low on iron and vitamin D but I was praised for maintaining his weight and calcium levels. But what happens to the children whose parents feel less confident working out how to balance a diet and have even less support? They are at risk of malnutrition because as this report states – ‘Parents of children with allergies and adult sufferers are often left to manage their own illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening, with little advice, knowledge or support.’
It is the life threatening aspect that is obviously the most shocking aspect of this. Zac, and many others, could have had potentially fatal reactions if he had accidentally consumed some of the foods we had been told to ‘avoid to be on the safe side’. Reckless advice, in my opinion.
All too often we read tragic stories of children and young adults having fatal allergic reactions and it all seems such a waste. Many lives could be saved if there was just a bit more information out there – for parents, families, carers, restaurants and most importantly GPs and nurses to support how they manage these cases.
The objective of the Allergy UK campaign is to raise £1million which will go towards putting specialist allergy nurses into the heart of local communities. The nurses will be able to carry out the simple blood tests and support families as they go through this worrying journey. They will able to make diagnoses, by taking case histories and performing tests and they will be able to make referrals which will ensure that all patients receive adequate information and care specific to their condition.
Here is a link to a video that explains the appeal in more detail.
Obviously, it will take time for all this to be put into place, so in the meantime if you are having the same struggles we did, here is the Allergy UK helpline number – 01322 619898. The helpline operates from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Here is the link on how you might be able to support the campaign through fundraising.
And here is a link to the Donations page, just in case you want to make a simple one off contribution.
Personally, I will be contacting the fundraising team to see what the options are that might suit me the best. Hopefully, this blog post has helped get it off to a good start at least. Please spread the word – because if there is one thing I have learned since I started this blog, it is that just about everyone you talk to knows someone who has an allergy and to them it is a far from minor or trivial condition.