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Hospital issues waiting room food ban after legal battle by mum of girls with severe allergies

By Kate Buck

A mum whose two little girls suffer from extreme allergies has spoken of her relief after the Ulster Hospital banned food from its waiting room.

Maire-Iosa McVicker (34) brought a disability discrimination case against the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust for removing signage banning food and drink, as it put her daughters at huge risk.

Aoibhe (7) and Meabh O'Donnell (3) have food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), a condition leaving them highly allergic to certain foods.

Aoibhe also has idiopathic anaphylaxis, meaning she can have an extreme allergic reaction without any known trigger.

The allergic reaction can be severe - it could cause them to go into shock, as well as making them vomit.

They must attend regular appointments at the Ulster Hospital's allergy clinic.

But when Ms McVicker, a social worker, took them for their regular appointment, she found the signs had been removed and people were eating in the waiting room. It caused Aoibhe, who was only six at the time, to have an allergic reaction.

Despite numerous attempts to get the trust to act, she was told that there was nothing it could do.

So she approached the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which helped her bring a disability discrimination case against the hospital.

She said: "We're not too sure why the signs were taken down. I approached the trust on two occasions but was told that there was nothing that they could do.

"I came to the Equality Commission because I was worried sick about the exposure of my girls to what could be a life-threatening allergic reaction. 

"I felt that the trust, by allowing people to eat in the waiting room, had failed to make a reasonable adjustment which would help safeguard my daughters' health.

"Because Aoibhe's allergies are idiopathic, it means that we don't know what will set her off and what quantities it will take to set her off, so food in the waiting room could have been dangerous."

As part of the settlement, which was agreed without the hospital admitting any liability, the trust has refurbished a private waiting room where no food and drink is allowed.

Despite the new waiting room being open for Aiobhe and Meabh to enjoy, hospital waiting lists mean that they have not been able to get an appointment since April.

Seamus McGoran, director of hospital services with South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said: "We recognise the challenges faced by children and parents living with complex allergies and are delighted that we have been able to find a solution for Aoibhe, Meabh and others when they attend for appointments."

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