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Millions of asthmatics receive substandard care

NHS audit of asthma care essential to save lives

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Huge numbers of people with asthma are getting substandard care according to a new report out today.

The Compare Your Care report by Asthma UK reveals that 86% of people with asthma are not getting appropriate treatment. The organisation says up to 3.9 million people in England are missing out on the basic care they need in order to avoid asthma attacks. Basic care includes being shown how to use inhalers, being given annual check-ups and having an asthma action plan.

These stats make for some alarming reading, says the charity, particularly as the vast majority of asthma deaths and hospital admissions are preventable with the right care and management.

Nearly 5,000 people in England took the online test this summer to check the quality of their asthma care. The results revealed that just 14% of these people are receiving care that fully meets basic national standards.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) introduced the first ever Quality Standard for asthma care, giving clear guidelines to healthcare professionals on how people with asthma should be treated. According to the NICE Quality Standard, everyone with asthma should receive a written asthma action plan from their doctor or asthma nurse, so they know what steps to take when their symptoms get worse. Those without an action plan are four times more likely to end up in hospital with an asthma attack.

But according to Asthma UK’s Compare Your Care report, less than a quarter of people with asthma in England said they had been given an action plan. One in five (22%) asthma patients said that nobody had made sure they knew how to use their inhaler, and a quarter said they had not had a review of their asthma with their doctor or asthma nurse in the last year.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said the findings were unacceptable and it was time for a systematic NHS audit of asthma care.

“The numbers of people dying from asthma and being hospitalised needlessly in this country are unacceptably high. The NICE Quality Standard provides the NHS with the information and advice it needs to prevent asthma attacks and save lives, but without clear incentives to implement it, patients are telling us it is being neglected so far. 

“Our report, based on patients’ own experiences, has given us a worrying snapshot of the problem, but a full and systematic NHS audit of asthma care in England is now long overdue. An improved focused audit, such as we’ve seen for other long-term conditions like diabetes, is the only way we can truly address the gaps in care and reduce the burden of asthma in people’s lives.”

Commenting on the findings, Dr Stephen Gaduzo, Chair of the Primary Care Respiratory Society UK, said: “This report shows that too many people are still not receiving optimal care for their asthma, despite it being one of the most common long-term conditions in the UK. Clinical guidelines are clear about what good quality care looks like. We now need to get the right support in place to enable healthcare professionals to deliver it. We want to work with policy makers, commissioners, clinicians and patients to drive up standards of care and reduce the burden that asthma has on people’s lives.”

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