Tens of thousands of Brits who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack do not receive the recommended follow-up care, the charity Asthma UK has warned.
The charity’s report The reality of asthma care in the UK: Annual Asthma Survey 2018 included a survey of more than 10,000 people with asthma, and found that a quarter (25%) needed emergency care following a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
But of these, nearly two-thirds (64%) said they did not receive a follow-up appointment with their GP or practice nurse within two working days as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and in the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD).
Prompt follow-up care is essential to get symptoms fully under control, prevent future asthma attacks and reduce the likelihood of further hospital admissions. One in six people who have emergency treatment for their asthma have another asthma attack in the following two weeks, the charity said. Last year, nearly 5,000 people in England were readmitted to hospital within 30 days of being admitted for an asthma attack.
Of the people who had an asthma attack and didn’t get follow-up care, two-thirds (65%) said they didn’t know they should get it and nearly a quarter (22%) said they couldn’t get an appointment with their GP because there was no availability.
Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP, said: “It’s gravely concerning that so many people with asthma could be missing out on life-saving follow-up care. Once you have had an asthma attack, you are much more vulnerable to having another one. This is because there is more inflammation in your lungs so you are more sensitive to any asthma trigger such as cold weather or pollution. It is vital people see their doctor so they can get the help they need to avoid another asthma attack.
After a patient has been treated at hospital their GP practice should be notified and a follow-up appointment arranged, but issues with data-sharing across the NHS means that this isn’t happening, and the burden is falling on patients to book an appointment. The charity is calling for healthcare records and IT systems across the NHS to be joined up so GPs get an alert if their patient has had emergency treatment for their asthma, and says better technology could allow for patients to be automatically booked in for a GP appointment after emergency treatment for an asthma attack.
“Patients are slipping through the cracks because NHS systems are letting them down. It is vital that the NHS embraces technology to ensure patients get joined-up care,” Whittamore said.
“It needs to put systems in place so that patients are automatically given follow-up care if they have had emergency treatment. It could save lives.”
Until this happens, Asthma UK is encouraging people with asthma to be proactive and urgently book a follow-up appointment with their GP within 48 hours of having an asthma attack. If people with asthma have difficulty getting a GP appointment, the charity recommends explaining the situation to their surgery receptionist so they are prioritised. They could also consider seeing the surgery’s asthma nurse, attend a walk-in centre or call 111 to get expert help, it says.