Asthma death study exposes errors on a 'horrifying scale'

May 6, 2014

UK's unnecessarily high death rate from asthma blamed on patients and medical staff alike

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COMPLACENCY among asthma sufferers and medical staff has been blamed for hundreds of people dying from asthma in the UK each year.

The UK has some of the highest asthma death rates in Europe, with 1,242 deaths in 2012. The National Review of Asthma Deaths, led by the Royal College of Physicians, has found that many of these people are dying unnecessarily.

The review found that nearly half of deaths could have been avoided with better routine care – a statistic described by Asthma UK as “heart-breaking”.

Kay Boycott, chief executive of the charity, told the BBC that the review identified “prescribing errors of a frankly horrifying scale and is a damning indictment of current routine practice”.

In nearly half of the 195 cases reviewed, asthma sufferers did not receive any medical help during their final asthma attack.

More than two-thirds of people hospitalised in the month before they died did not receive a proper check-up afterwards. In many of the cases, warning signs were found to have been ignored.

There was “room for improvement” in the standard of care received by 83 per cent of those who died, with “less than satisfactory” care in a quarter of cases.

Over half of those who died were only being treated for mild or moderate asthma at the time. Neither doctors nor patients themselves recognised how serious their asthma really was, the review concluded.

Patients had not always helped themselves either, reports The Guardian. Nearly one in five were smokers, while others, including children, lived with people who smoked at home. Some patients had not collected their prescriptions for preventive treatments or did not go for regular asthma check-ups.

“Too often we have also been slow to detect signs of poor asthma control and slow to act when these have been present, with tragic consequences for some families. We can and we must do better,” said Dr Kevin Stewart, clinical director at the clinical effectiveness and evaluation unit (CEEU) at the Royal College of Physicians.

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