Inquest Probes How Boy Came to Die of Severe Food Allergy Reaction in Hospital

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in Asthma, Food Allergy, News
Published: December 14, 2017
AAP Image / Supplied by the Tate family

The parents of a 13-year-old Australian boy who died after being served breakfast as a patient at a hospital strongly believe his death should have never happened.

Louis Tate had allergies to milk, egg and nuts since he was a baby. In October 2015, he was admitted to Frankston Hospital in Melbourne because of an asthma attack. His mother, Gabrielle Catan, told a coroner’s inquest that she informed hospital staff of his allergies and asked them to serve him Weetbix and soy milk for breakfast.

The inquest heard that Louis had complained to a nurse about a “slight tingling sensation” in his mouth after eating breakfast, a common allergic symptom. He was given four doses of epinephrine at the hospital for an anaphylactic reaction, but later died.

“We strongly believe Louis’s death never should have happened,” said the boy’s father Simon Tate according to a report in 7 News Melbourne outside the coroner’s court (see video below). “He was in a hospital where he should have been safe.” 

The nurse in charge of the children’s ward in the hospital at the time of Louis’s death told the inquest his allergies were not recorded on the kitchen’s whiteboard, which is a protocol at the hospital to indicate a child’s allergies. (The inquest has not made it clear yet which allergen triggered his fatal reaction.)

“We continue to struggle every day with emptiness, loss and circumstances surrounding his death,” said Tate.

As Allergic Living reported in the Fall 2017 magazine’s cover report, in North America, the issue of food safety in hospitals for people with food allergies does not appear to be on the radar for some key organizations – despite the rapid rise in the disease’s incidence. Dr. Jeffrey Brady, director of the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Maryland, admits this is the case with his agency.

“I’ll be honest – we have many patient safety issues that we’re tackling, and this is not one that we’ve focused on specifically,” he told Allergic Living magazine. Brady noted an issue with hospitals is that “care is delivered by multiple people, and it often depends on information moving correctly from individuals.”

Betsy Craig has trained professionals at dozens of hospitals in the United States with AllerTrain, a food allergy and gluten-free training course for food-service professionals, and told Allergic Living that the subject of food allergies in hospital care comes up frequently. But training is by no means consistent within the hospital sector.

While her restaurant training protocols can be modified to work for hospitals, Craig notes that there is no widely used, standardized training that specifically addresses the unique aspects of a hospital, from identifying patients with allergies to kitchen practices and making sure that the right tray gets to the right person.

Parents and patients need to be mindful – food allergy and celiac awareness are far from uniform across U.S. and Canadian hospitals.

As for Louis’ parents, they hope their son’s inquest provides them with answers and ensures other people with food allergies can eat safely in hospital.

With files from Claire Gagné