Michelle Berriedale-Johnson talks to Dr Adam Fox, Director of the King’s College London Allergy Academy
In 2007 the House of Lords Science and Technology published a damning report on the provision for allergic illness within the NHS.
Reinforcing the finding of earlier repors such as the Royal College or Physicians 2003 report, Allergy the Unmet Need: a blue print for patient care, their lordships called for, amongst other measures, more specialist allergy centres and better training for health professionals from primary care through to consultant level.
Having heard many such calls over the previous ten years, none which had resulted in any significant changes in allergy provision, the allergy community heaved a big sigh, commended their lordships for their efforts but did not get over excited about imminent change. But, things were stirring….
The Children’s Allergy Service
In 2005 the new Evelina children’s hospital had opened within the St Thomas’ hospital complex on London’s South Bank incorporating within its services a dedicated children’s allergy clinic. (See our article here.) The unit was run by three top class allergists, Professor Gideon Lack and Drs Adam Fox and George Du Toit, staffed by specialist paediatric and allergy nurses and dietitians, and was already working with a group of international research allergists. By the time of the House of Lords report, the Evelina team had already set up the LEAP research study on peanut allergy and had already run a three day course on paediatric allergy for doctors which had been hugely over subscribed.
The House of Lord report had called for more specialist allergy centres, for those centres to help to train allergy specialists, and for better training in allergy at medical school level. However, creating allergy centres takes years and substantial funds – neither of which were actually available. Including allergy education in medical school training looked equally unpromising. Allergy was only one, and a relatively insignficant one, of dozens of specialisations clamouring for more representation in the medical curriculum.
As one of the very few centres with comprehensive paediatric and adult allergy expertise (as opposed to respiratory, dermatological or gastrointestinal specialists) the team at St Thomas’s decided to answer their lordships’ call, but to take a different route.
Allergy courses for medical professionals
Basing their plans on the success of their three day course in paediatric allergy for qualified doctors, they drew up a programme of day courses they could offer to already qualified medical professionals with an interest in allergy.
As Dr Adam Fox, now directory of the Allergy Academy explained, they were ideally placed to do this. They had a large team of allergy specialists on staff and immediate access to a number of allergy academics through their close ties with King’s College London; they had access to relatively cheap facilities in which to hold courses either within the hospital or the university and they had excellent relations with potential funders within the allergy industry. This meant that, if they could organise themselves properly, they should be able to offer courses very cheaply thus attracting a very wide level of potential students.
In 2008 the hospital and the university starter a merger which would incorporate a tripartite agenda of clinical excellence, research and education. The hospital already fulfilled the clinical practice requirement, the university the research requirement, the team’s new Allergy Academy could fulfil the educational requirement, thus ensuring enthusiastic support from the university.
The Allergy Academy
In 2009, an administrator was appointed and the first courses were held – 10 courses aimed at general practioners and hospital doctors – sponsored by Nutricia, Danone, Phadia, Novartis and Alk-Abello. They were all over subscribed.
Encouraged by their success, in 2010 they expanded the course offering and their sponsorship base. They also started to work with other either allergy related groups (Asthma UK, Allergy UK, Allergy Research Foundation etc) or with other medical partners (Great Ormond Street Hospital, St John’s Institute of Dermatology, Academy of Paediatric Gastroenterology etc) and increase their range of potential students (primary care nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and even, in 2012, non health care professionals).
The Allergy Academy on line
But successful and well attended though the courses have been, they are based in London and require their delegates to attend, both seriously limiting factors in Dr Fox’s vision. The Academy is, therefore now developing a significant on line offer including both webcasts of courses they have run and other more broadly based educational material.
They have taken on another full time member of staff to develop their on site courses which Dr Fox hopes that they will be able to offer for very low, or even no, fees – a maximum of £100 is his aim – thus making them accessible to every level of healthcare and non healthcare professional.
He sees the internet as being the ideal medium to deliver his messages to an ever wider audience so, although he anticipates that the academy will continue to run ‘live’ courses, he wants their focus to be on their on line educational offer.
Partnerships and educational support
He is also forming partnerships with other educational groups – such as BMJ Learning which already offer post graduate training to over 40,000 doctors – through which they will be able to offer training in allergy to an ever wider constituency.
Allergy Academy courses are not intended to provide professional qualifications - there are already courses on offer at Southampton University and Imperial College that offer qualifications. But Dr Fox does hope that the project will continue to be well enough funded to be able to offer bursaries and scholarships to those wishing to continue their studies elsewhere.
To check out what courses are on offer this year – including their first ever allergy course for non-healthcare professionals (families, friends and carers of those with allergies) in September, check into the website at www.allergyacademy.org or, more specifically, at the programme for 2012 here.
First published in February 2012
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