Posted by Joanna Mason, Paralegal
Is there a problem with basic asthma care in England & Wales?
Asthma deaths in England and Wales ‘at highest level for a decade’. The charity Asthma UK says a lack of basic asthma care could be behind the increase in deaths.
Asthma is a common lung condition that affects people of all ages. It often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.
There’s currently no cure, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control, so it doesn’t have a big impact on people’s lives.
Why have asthma deaths risen?
More than 1,400 people died from an asthma attack last year, an eight per cent increase compared to 2017 and up 33 per cent since 2007. The charity believes that recent extreme weather and air pollution, combined with a lack of basic care and a general misunderstanding about the seriousness of asthma, is driving the soaring rates.
Asthma UK said that around 60% of people with asthma in England and Wales – an estimated 2.9 million people – are not receiving basic care as recommended by national guidelines. A review commissioned by the NHS and Department for Health five years ago found that two-thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented by better basic care. But Asthma UK said only one of its 19 recommendations have been “partially” implemented.
Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, said:
“The same mistakes are being made again and again because essential recommendations have not been implemented. This lack of action is costing lives and devastating families and communities.”
One of the most prominent Asthma death cases was eight-year-old Bailey Davis. Bailey only ever showed mild symptoms of asthma, but in 2017, without warning, he suffered an acute attack, collapsed and died. Unfortunately, he did not have a care package in place and so died from his second-ever attack.
In the sphere of clinical negligence claims, it would be common that deaths from negligence in relation to asthma are caused by a delay in treating symptoms or misdiagnosis. A delay could cause significant injury including further lung damage, heart failure, brain damage or death.
It may be someone has been suffering from symptoms and their GP has failed to carry out any investigations, or to refer them to a specialist, or they may have been referred to a hospital and the treating doctors have failed to investigate symptoms or misinterpreted a scan or x-ray and failed to act on results of a report on a scan.
It is unclear whether many of the deaths have been caused by negligence, if any. However, it is useful to understand that you can take action should asthma issues be missed.
So what more can be done to reduce the death rates?
In a statement Mike Morgan from NHS England said:
“Asthma UK worked closely with the NHS to develop proposals in our Long Term Plan, which sets out measures including better diagnosis of the condition, improved medicine reviews and stronger guidance for local health services to better support families living with asthma”.
The advice from GPs for asthma patients is always have access to your prescription medication, don’t let inhalers run out or expire without getting a replacement and understand how to use inhalers, peak flow meters and spacer devices properly.
Could technology reduce deaths from asthma attacks?
Dr John Blakey, researcher in asthma and new technologies states: “technology has a huge potential for transforming asthma care. More research will tell us which bits of technology work best for whom, and when, and how we can make it more effective.
Asthma UK’s “Connected Asthma” report explains where several key innovations could make the biggest impact for people with asthma.
- Smart inhalers – these are designed to link to a smartphone and detect when an inhaler is used, tracking use in real-time and building a picture of overall medication use for a person with asthma;
- Health apps – apps could help people with asthma receive personalised information to help self-manage their asthma. These need to be better developed to suit user needs, but these could give people information on triggers such as air pollution, in addition to storing a person’s asthma action plan;
- Remote monitoring – this could help healthcare professionals to better support people with asthma, with technology potentially able in the future to detect when a person’s asthma is worsening and respond appropriately to prevent an attack.
How to ensure you are receiving basic care
There is good evidence to show that just three elements of basic asthma care can cut your risk of needing emergency treatment and reduce any niggling symptoms affecting your life.
There is lots you can do for yourself, and with your GP or nurse, to make sure you get the care you deserve. This includes:
- implementing an asthma action plan which includes things like how to tell whether your asthma is getting worse and what medicine to take;
- checking your inhaler technique to improve symptoms;
- ensuring you book in for an annual review with your GP so you can talk about any problems you are experiencing.
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