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Asthma costs UK health service at least £1bn every year

Figures likely to be substantial underestimate, say researchers

Caroline White

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Asthma treatment is costing the UK health service at least £1.1 billion every year, almost three quarters of which goes on the provision of primary care services, reveals a study* from the Asthma UK Centre in Applied Research, and published in BMC Medicine.

The findings, which are the result of the most comprehensive study ever carried out into the state of asthma in UK to date, are nevertheless likely to represent a “substantial underestimate” of the true costs, say the researchers.

They base their findings on 27 sets of national health surveys and anonymised administrative, health, and social care records, which they used to build a picture of asthma in each of the four UK countries.

They found that the UK lifetime prevalence of symptoms suggestive of asthma is 29.5 % (18.5 million people) and 15.6 % for clinically diagnosed asthma, as reported by patients.

The annual prevalence of patient-reported asthma diagnosed and treated by a clinician is 9.6 % (6m) while that reported by a clinician is 5.7 % (3.6m).

The figures show that there at least 6.3 milllion consultations with a GP or nurse in primary care every year, 93,000 hospital stays, 1,800 episodes of intensive-care and 36,800 disability living allowance claims.

The costs of asthma were estimated at least £1.1 billion: almost three quarters of which goes on the provision of primary care services (60 % prescribing, 14 % consultations), with 13 % for disability claims, and 12 % for hospital care.

Of the total cost of treating asthma in the UK, at least £666 million is spent on prescription costs each year, while GP consultations account for £160 million. Disability claims amount to £147 million and hospital care a further £137 million.

The figures are likely to be substantial underestimates, say the researchers, because they didn’t include people for whom asthma was not their main illness.

But their findings confirm that the UK has one of the highest burdens of asthma in the world, with more than 18 million people treated for the condition at some stage in their lifetime.

“Asthma is very common and is responsible for considerable morbidity, healthcare utilisation and financial costs to the UK public sector. Greater policy focus on primary care provision is needed to reduce the risk of asthma exacerbations, hospitalisations and deaths, and reduce costs,” conclude the researchers.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: “Despite the fact we’re spending over a billion pounds a year on asthma, many people are still not receiving care that meets even the most basic clinical standards.

“It’s clear this has to change and a different approach is urgently needed. We strongly believe new technologies such as smart inhalers are the likely game changer that could reduce asthma attacks and ease the burden on the NHS.

“Supporting people to better manage their asthma with new technologies would likely lead to healthier lifestyles, reducing the need for NHS appointments and admissions and freeing up care for those who need it most.”

* Mukherjee M, et al. The epidemiology, healthcare and societal burden and costs of asthma in the UK and its member nations: analyses of standalone and linked nation. BMC Medicine 2016 14:113. DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0657-8

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