Concern over the provision of life-saving equipment and training in schools became an election issue yesterday when the Barnett Gov- ernment was accused of putting lives at risk by cutting funding for the management of children with severe food allergies.
Labor promised to reinstate a dedicated anaphylaxis program to cope with the growing number of children diagnosed with potentially lethal food allergies or yet to discover they have the condition.
The former program had cost $6.6 million since 2007. Labor said $750,000 would be made available immediately to kickstart the scheme should it win the March election.
"Mr Barnett has withdrawn funding from anaphylaxis treatment and training in schools," Labor leader Mark McGowan said.
"What that means is that children are put at risk and potentially could die."
But Education Minister Peter Collier responded by insisting that EpiPens - an adrenalin delivery device for treating people in anaphylactic shock - would continue to be available at schools.
"Once this funding program ends, EpiPens, including replacements when they are needed, will continue to be in schools and the Government will ensure they are funded," he said. "Teachers and education assistants will also continue to be trained."
Mr Collier did not give details of where the funding would come from.
Mr McGowan said the Government was moving to an online anaphylaxis training scheme for school staff rather than face-to-face demonstrations using an EpiPen.
An EpiPen costs about $120 and must be replaced every 18 months.
Mr McGowan said this was recommended by the NSW Coroner after a student died at school.
Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia vice-president Sandra Vale said the Government had blurred the approach to dealing with the problems in schools and the need for the right training and equipment should be mandatory.
"I guess the question is what price do you put on a child's life," she said. "Does a child have to die in Western Australia before this issue is taken seriously?"
She said the latest statistics showed that one in 10 children suffered from a confirmed food allergy and the waiting list for those undiagnosed but suspected of having a condition was growing daily.
In most cases, children diagnosed with peanut or other food allergies are sent to school with EpiPens and schools have individual management plans in place.
"Yes, we know the child that has been diagnosed will have their own, but what about the child that hasn't been diagnosed," Mrs Vale said. "The Government needs to provide clear support."
Jackie Williams' son Art suffers the most severe form of food allergy and she said it was vital all schools had the EpiPens as back-up.