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Rishi Sunak responds to Prime Minister’s Question from MP Shailesh Vara about children with allergies, including Benedict Blythe

Better safeguarding for children with allergies was raised during Prime Minister’s Questions today (Wednesday, May 8).

Shailesh Vara, Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire, spoke of five-year-old Benedict Blythe, who died in December 2021 following a severe allergic reaction he suffered while at Barnack Primary School.

Benedict was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, sesame and chickpeas.

Mr Vara said: “On average, two children in every class have a food allergy, and allergic reactions take place more in school than in any other setting outside the home.”

He went on to say that severe allergic reactions “are on the rise and can be fatal” but other than guidance for schools, there is no explicit legal requirement for the provision of allergy medication, an allergy policy or other recommended safeguards being made available.

Mr Vara asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to meet him and Benedict’s parents, Helen and Pete from Stamford, to discuss ways to ensure that children who suffer from allergies in schools can be safer, including schools having an allergy policy, adrenaline pens and staff who know how to use them.

Benedict Blythe
Benedict Blythe

Responding, Mr Sunak extended his sympathy to Benedict's family, saying: “It is always tragic to hear about the loss of a child.”

He added: “We fully understand the seriousness of severe allergies and believe that children with medical conditions should be properly supported to enjoy a full education and be safe at school.”

Mr Sunak said there is a legal duty on the governing body of schools to make arrangements for supporting pupils, including setting out what needs to be done, and he said that he would ensure Mr Vara meets the Health Secretary to discuss further support for pupils with serious allergies.

Following the exchange in the House of Commons, Mr Vara said: “Benedict was a lovely little boy, and it is so tragic that he died of anaphylaxis.

MP Shailesh Vara and Helen Blythe
MP Shailesh Vara and Helen Blythe

“Given that allergic reactions take place more in school than in any other place outside the home, it is vital to have more than just optional guidance for schools.

“As matters stand, the legal duty on the governing body of schools to ‘make arrangements’ to support pupils is very weak. It is important to have an obligation for specific requirements.

“All schools should have an allergy policy and adrenaline pens, as well as people who know how to use them. This is currently not the case in many schools.

“I am very pleased to have secured a meeting with Victoria Atkins MP, the Health Secretary, and along with Benedict’s parents, Helen and Pete, I very much hope to make more progress in making our schools safer for those who suffer from allergies.”

Helen Blythe is the founder and director of the Benedict Blythe Foundation, which she set up in 2021 following Benedict’s death.

She said: “Over the last two years we have heard heartbreaking stories from families and teachers put in impossible positions because of a lack of legislation and funding for allergy in English schools, and across the UK.

“With increasing numbers of children with allergies in schools, and clinicians, coroners and charities united behind the same clear set of modest recommendations, it seems unfathomable that there’s been no firm commitment from government to implement those recommendations.

“As each year goes by, children are being needlessly put at risk, and more needs to be done.”

An inquest has yet to report on Benedict’s death.

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