Concerns Asthma Is Being 'Overlooked'

21 September 2016, 08:50 | Updated: 21 September 2016, 09:12

Asthma is being "overlooked'', leading nurses have warned.

Because the condition affects more than five million people in the UK, it is "easy to forget that it can be deadly'', the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.

More than 1,400 people died from the condition across the UK in 2015 - the highest number in a decade.

Medics who treat those with asthma "must have all the time and tools to treat it with the seriousness it deserves'', the RCN added.

The comments come as a new guideline highlighting optimal care for patients was released.

The guideline, produced jointly by the British Thoracic Society (BTS) and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, emphasises that there is still no single test that can definitively diagnose asthma and an individual's asthma status can change over time.

It also says the use of technology to help with the delivery of asthma care can, in some cases, be at least as good as traditional methods. These include games to encourage children to take their medication, remote consultations and automated treatment reminders.

"Asthma is a complex disease and symptoms can vary over time,'' said Dr John White, British Thoracic Society member and consultant respiratory physician at York NHS Foundation Trust - who co-chaired the group that delivered the updated guideline.

"In addition, evidence shows there's still no single 'magic bullet test' for asthma. This all means that diagnosis isn't always easy.

"This update should be really valuable as it gives healthcare professionals an evidence-based, but highly practical approach to suspecting and confirming a diagnosis of asthma - as well as giving the latest guidance on the most appropriate treatments and interventions to combat the disease.''

Commenting on the guideline, Amanda Cheesley, professional lead for long term conditions at the RCN said: "Asthma is a common condition, but it is very far from harmless.

"Because more than five million people in the UK are affected by it, it is easy to forget that it can be deadly. More than 1,400 people died from asthma in 2015, the highest number for more than a decade.

"It is absolutely vital that everyone with asthma is identified and the right treatment found, for them. These guidelines recognise that one size does not fit all - and good testing, advice and drug treatments must be available to everyone, even if they consider their condition mild.

"With the number of deaths rising, and concerns about the effects of air pollution, asthma must no longer be overlooked and the doctors and nurses who treat it must have all the time and tools to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.

"Nurses in particular can have a vital role in helping people to manage their condition, keep well and avoid hospital admissions.

"It is imperative that we have enough nurses with the right training to ensure that these guidelines are reflected in the experience of patients.''

Charity Asthma UK welcomed the focus on reliever inhalers in the new guidance.

Asthma UK's clinical lead Dr Andy Whittamore, said: "Too often, when their symptoms get worse, people with asthma simply increase the amount they use their reliever inhaler to keep their symptoms under control.

"However, needing to use more than one whole reliever inhaler a month is a sign someone's asthma is not under control, putting them at higher risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack.

"The guidance published today encourages clinicians to identify people with asthma who have become over reliant on their short-term reliever inhalers.

"This is a critical step to ensuring that people with asthma receive the treatment they need, rather than continuing to mask their worsening symptoms through increased use of their reliever inhaler.''