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Asthma deaths hit 12-year high in Northern Ireland - teachers plea for support

As Northern Ireland’s asthma deaths hit a 12-year high, teachers say they need more support to help children cope with the life-threatening condition.

“Last week's inquest into the death of a pupil following an allergic reaction highlighted this issue again. The approaching hay fever season, and the asthma attacks it leads to, signals dread for not just sufferers,” according to Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

“The fact that the number of Northern Ireland people who died from asthma last year hit an all-time high highlights the very real dangers of this condition."

At the inquest last week coroner Mary Hassell said Nasar Ahmed could possibly have been saved had he received medication more quickly following an allergic reaction. Nasar, who had severe asthma and multiple allergies, died after falling ill at Bow School, Tower Hamlets, in November. Nasar's mother accused staff of failing in their duty of care. Bow School said it had reviewed its safety procedures.

More than 180,000 people across Northern Irealnd suffer from the respiratory condition, according to official figures from the NI Statistical Research Agency and according to the latest figures available, asthma killed 44 people here in 2015 - the highest figure for more than a decade.

“These shocking figures also revealed that more than one in 10 people here are receiving treatment for the illness which highlights the very real issues teachers are dealing with every day when you multiply up those statistics across a classroom of 30 children,” said Ms Hall Callaghan.

“Of course children living with a range of conditions, including mental health problems, asthma and diabetes, should be fully included in lessons and activities but teachers need to be assured of training and support to facilitate this.

“This time of year especially highlights the problem as so many cases are triggered by pollen allergies and we will again receive a growing number of calls from increasingly concerned teachers about how far they are expected to intervene in helping a child manage their asthma.

“Our advice is simply not to administer medications, unless it’s a life or death situation. Some of the children’s conditions are fairly mild but others are more serious and teachers and classroom assistants do a tremendous job in managing these situations.

“A return to the days of the school nurse would go a long way to alleviating the pressure felt by our members. We need a holistic approach to the care and education of children in schools.

“It’s about covering all eventualities too – a school can’t really afford to have just one person trained in using Epipens, for example, as that person may be off when an emergency arises."


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