Belfast Telegraph

Hospital to set up food-free waiting room after allergy discrimination case

A hospital has agreed to set up a specialist waiting room with a strict food ban after the family of two children with life-threatening allergies took a discrimination case.

Maire-Iosa McVicker's daughters Aoibhe (seven) and Meabh O'Donnell (three) have food hypersensitivity. The girls have FPIES (food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome), a condition that causes very severe physical reactions, resulting in physiological shock, when they come into contact with certain trigger foods. Aoibhe also has additional condition called idiopathic anaphylaxis.

Both girls attend regular appointments at the Ulster Hospital's allergy clinic on the outskirts of Belfast, where their interactions with other children have to be severely limited, especially if food is present.

With the support of the Equality Commission, the family took a disability discrimination case against the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust after two incidents in the waiting room.

They said the room used for the allergy clinic originally had signs forbidding eating and drinking due to the dangers they posed to the children attending.

However, the O'Donnell family said the signs were removed. After that they experienced two instances where people were eating and drinking in the waiting room.

On the first occasion, Aoibhe experienced a distressing allergic reaction. The second time, Ms McVicker removed her daughters from the room to ensure they were safe.

The hospital has now settled the case, without admission of liability, and apologised for the upset caused to the family.

They have now agreed to provide a new waiting room with strict prohibitions on food and drink.

"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," said Ms McVicker.

"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."

"The solution that the Trust has come up with should now deal with this problem, which has been a great relief to me.

"The refurbishment of the hospital's paediatric unit will now include a separate waiting room where no eating and drinking will be allowed, which will be of huge benefit to my children and to any others with similar conditions. Until that's ready, we have an interim solution in place.

"I appreciate the efforts made by hospital management to come up with a solution to the problems we were encountering."

Seamus McGoran, Director of Hospital Services at the 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."

Anne McKernan, Head of Legal Services at the Equality Commission, said: "This is a good example where, by using the opportunity provided by a refurbishment already scheduled, a reasonable adjustment has been made which will be of great benefit to the O'Donnell family and others in their position.

"Every organisation providing services to the public, whether public or private, has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to make it easier for people with disabilities to use their services. In this case the settlement involves no monetary compensation - but it does contain undertakings to provide a safe place for two little girls with a rare and serious condition."

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