Senate urged to investigate hospital food preparation for people with allergies

The death of a 13-year-old boy with food allergies at a Melbourne hospital has caught the attention of federal Health Minister Sussan Ley, who has backed calls for a Senate inquiry into how safely hospitals prepare food.

Louis Tate died suddenly after being admitted to Frankston Hospital for asthma in October.
Louis Tate died suddenly after being admitted to Frankston Hospital for asthma in October. Photo: supplied

On Sunday, federal MP Anna Burke said she was asking the Senate standing committee on health to review the management of anaphylaxis in hospitals, particularly food administration and medication.  

Her call followed a Sunday Age report about Louis Tate, a teen who died at Frankston Hospital in October. His parents suspect he was given food or traces of foods he was allergic to, even though hospital staff were aware of his allergies. They are also concerned about how his anaphylaxis was managed once he complained about tingling in his mouth and tightening of his throat.

Health Minister Sussan Ley was "deeply upset" about the report on Louis Tate's death. Health Minister Sussan Ley was “deeply upset” about the report on Louis Tate’s death. 

The death, believed to be the first fatality linked to food preparation in an Australian hospital, is being investigated by Peninsula Health and a coroner.

Ms Burke, who has a 13-year-old son with food allergies, said although she could not comment on the circumstances surrounding Louis’ death, she had heard many anecdotes about people being given inappropriate food and hospitals not being fully equipped to manage anaphylaxis.  

“There is a concern amongst the allergy community about the increased risk of death from inappropriate food and/or medication administered inside a hospital setting,” she said.

“We certainly need to give parents, partners, everyone, the fullest confidence that if someone has an anaphylactic reaction inside a hospital, everyone knows how to deal with it.”

Ms Burke said she planned to seek support from Ms Ley for a Senate review.

A spokesman for Ms Ley said she was “deeply upset” about the report on Louis Tate’s death.

“I too, would like to extend my thoughts to Louis’ family and will ask Anaphylaxis Australia to advise if they believe there are gaps in awareness, training or in-hospital standards we need to be aware of,” she said.

“Anna [Burke] is welcome to contact me and certainly, if the Senate committee believes this is an issue which should be further investigated, I think it would be appropriate for them to do so.”   

About  10 per cent of children and 2 per cent of adults have a food allergy, putting them at risk of anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening reaction to the allergen which can be fatal. Symptoms include swelling of the lips and eyelids, swollen tongue, tightening of the throat, and reddening of skin.