UK & World News

  • 6 May 2014, 11:17

Patients Dying After 'Horrifying' Asthma Care

Most asthma deaths could be prevented if patients received better care, according to a hard-hitting report by medical experts.

Analysis by the Royal College of Physicians of 179 patients who died from an asthma attack revealed "major" avoidable factors in 65% of cases.

Medical records showed there were prescribing errors in almost half of the cases.

And fewer than a quarter of patients had a treatment action plan that detailed what they should do if symptoms worsened.

Asthma UK described the findings as "horrifying".

According to the first National Review of Asthma Deaths, half the cases examined were being treated for mild or moderate disease, suggesting patients and doctors underestimated how serious their condition was.

Yet the review found there were warning signs that could have been acted on.

More than a fifth of the patients had been treated in A&E in the year before their fatal attack, indicating their disease was being poorly managed.

And 39% of the patients were being prescribed more than one reliever inhaler every month - another red flag for poor care, the report said.

Report author Dr Mark Levy told Sky News: "We need to end the complacency that asthma is solved. Very few people should be dying from asthma.

Dr Levy said any patient needing to use their blue reliever inhaler more than two or three times a week may have asthma that is out of control.

Regular steroid preventer inhalers should be used by the majority of patients, he said.

Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, said: "This confidential inquiry has identified prescribing errors of a frankly horrifying scale and is a damning indictment of current routine practice.

"In many of these cases the warning signs were ignored.

"Past attacks are a clear risk factor for future attacks, but more than two thirds of the people hospitalised in the month before they died didn't get properly checked up afterwards."

The UK has one of the highest asthma death rates in Europe. More than three people are killed by an asthma attack every day.

Malcolm Sinclair, 10, died after suddenly suffering breathing problems in the middle of the night. He had been well, with no wheezing, the day before.

His mother Claire O'Beirne said: "I suppose I was dimly aware that people could die of asthma, but I assumed they would be very severely affected.

"I certainly didn't think children could die of asthma, particularly children who appeared to be relatively mildly affected and where things were relatively well controlled.

"Malcolm did not miss much school. He wasn't a sickly child at all."

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