It’s never just ‘a bit of Asthma’

Doctor : Patient meeting

Like many of you, I woke up last week to the very sad news that the high profile apprentice star Stuart Baggs’ death was due to an asthma attack. At first I was sad, for him and for his family and friends. Then a creeping frustration came over me, a frustration that despite all the focus and attention poor asthma care and treatment has received over the past few years, people are still not taking asthma seriously, people still don’t realise it is a killer. On the radio, the aptly named Dr Brian Hope mentioned that fatal asthma attacks can affect anybody with asthma, whatever severity their disease has been assigned. He stated that symptoms generally become more noticeable in the days leading up to an attack and that people really ought to know how to manage their symptoms.

But the problem persists – even this expert suggested that more than half of people with asthma have an action plan which tells them how to manage their symptoms. If only it were that many – last year the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) from the Royal College of Physicians suggested that only about a quarter of people who had died from an asthma attack had a written asthma action plan. Only a few weeks ago, Asthma UK presented their report, Patient Safety Failures in Asthma, to coincide with the anniversary of the publication of NRAD. This report suggested that despite the brutal findings of NRAD, and its multitude of sensible recommendations, nothing had really changed in the system, health care professionals and people with asthma still weren’t taking their condition seriously, and consequently weren’t following their management plan, thereby reducing their risk of a fatal asthma attack.

People with asthma have a right to live symptom free. This is achievable if they have a written action plan, have a regular review with their health care professional, and also if they themselves take their condition seriously. They need to understand that when they are symptom free they shouldn’t stop taking their medication. Every asthma death is a tragedy but many people don’t realise how serious asthma is. Every ten seconds someone in the UK is having a potentially life threatening asthma attack and sadly three people die every day.

We all have a part to play in treating this condition with the seriousness it deserves. Individuals and their families need to find out what to do in the event of an asthma attack, need to follow their written action plan, and need to keep in contact with their health care professional. The health system needs to treat people with asthma according to well defined policies and guidelines, and this includes following them up if they haven’t attended their annual review, noticing how many reliever inhalers they have been prescribed, ensuring their treatment plan is appropriate. Government and policy makers need to ensure the implementation of the COPD and Asthma Outcomes Strategy that was published in England in 2012. This will reduce deaths from, and improve outcomes for, people with respiratory conditions.

Maybe then we won’t have to wake up to tragic stories like Stuart’s.