Guest Post: Asthma UK’s Andrew Proctor on “When simplicity can save lives”

Tackling asthma review DNAs with surprisingly easy measures can save lives – and clinician stress

Andrew Proctor - Director of Advice and Support, Asthma UK
Andrew Proctor – Director of Advice and Support, Asthma UK

When former star of The Apprentice, Stuart Baggs died in the summer from an asthma attack at just 27 years of age, it caused ripples across the national news. Media interest focused on his celebrity and relatively young age, but also that he didn’t have a severe form of the condition. The sad truth is that this wasn’t an isolated incident – three people die from asthma every day. We know that every 10 seconds someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. The National Review of Asthma Deaths published last year revealed that over half those who died were being treated for mild or moderate asthma, and many of these deaths could have been prevented with better routine asthma care. It’s frightening to witness a child, business colleague, friend or family member having an asthma attack, and utterly tragic when anyone loses a loved one through a preventable asthma attack.  

The annual asthma review is the bedrock of asthma care, where treatment is discussed by the GP or nurse and changed as necessary according to symptoms. These appointments also give people with asthma the opportunity to develop a personalised, written asthma action plan. Action plans give patients the information and confidence to manage their asthma, and to spot the early warning signs of a potentially life threatening attack.

It is an enduring frustration for clinicians that many people with asthma do not attend their annual asthma review, despite repeated requests. Missed patient appointments or ‘Do Not Attends’ cost lives and are a drain on valuable GP practice time. It’s interesting that in a world where technological developments are designed to save us time, we are not always making the most of them in primary care. GPs are reported to be suffering from the highest levels of stress for 15 years (with long working hours cited as one of the top reasons in a recent Department of Health Survey), so simple ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of asthma reviews should be welcome. Asthma UK has been working on a project for some time, made possible through financial support from Boehringer Ingelheim to develop top tips for improving efficiency, and crucially this starts with getting patients to attend their all important annual reviews.

These top tips use existing technology and simple solutions to help reduce the number of missed appointments, and to make consultations more effective. Examples include asking patients to bring in a video of their changing symptoms on their smart phones and sending text reminders of appointments. These tips are all tried and tested in primary care and they have been shown to make a difference.

We have already had good feedback on the top tips from GPs and nurses and we are keen to hear your views. You can read the top tips here, and to find out more information about Asthma UK visit,

By Andrew Proctor, Director of Health Advice at Asthma UK

About the author

 Andrew Proctor is Director of Advice and Support at Asthma UK. He is passionate about people having the right information and advice to make informed choices about their health. Andrew has worked in the voluntary sector for many years, including periods at the British Lung Foundation and Alzheimer’s Society, building on an earlier career in higher education and publishing