Doctors are misdiagnosing thousands of Asthma patients, says Asthma UK
Tens of thousands of people with asthma in the UK are not getting the right medicines to keep their condition safely under control, according to an audit. Asthma UK, which analysed nearly 100,000 patient records to reach this estimate, says lives are in danger.
An estimated 22,000 people, including 2,000 children, are in danger because they are using long-acting reliever inhalers on their own rather than with a steroid preventer as they should be. That poses a danger because the reliever helps to improve the patient’s breathing but not treat the underlying inflammation that causes flare-ups of asthma.
Kay Boycott, from Asthma UK says ‘it is simply unacceptable that the lives of people with asthma are being put at risk because of unsafe prescribing, it is crucial that healthcare professionals review their systems and urgently recall patients who have been prescribed long-acting reliever inhalers on their own without a steroid preventer, or not as a combination inhaler.”
100,000 asthmatics are also at risk because they rely too much on short-term reliever inhalers to tackle their constricted breathing and have not been advised by a health professional how to keep their condition under control. Doctors should realise that anyone who used a usually-blue-coloured reliever inhaler three times a week, or who is prescribed 12 inhalers a year, had poor control of their asthma and needed to have their treatment reviewed. And any person who finds that they use 12 or more short-acting reliever inhalers in a year must see a doctor because it means their condition is not under control and needs other medication.
Asthma UK has discovered that over 22,000 people are currently carrying inhalers which although keep their airways open do not treat the underlying inflammation, and actually leave them even more exposed to pollen and pollution.
Without an accompanying steroid inhaler a further attack could be deadly, they warn. The charity said that patients should check if they are using an inhaler which has Salmeterol, Formoterol or Tiotropium bromide as the only active ingredient. If they are taking this without a steroid preventer inhaler as well, then they should contact their GP right away.
The audit also reviewed more than 500 GP practices between 2010 and 2013, and found 5,000 patients had been prescribed more than 12 reliever inhalers over a 12-month period, 1,965 of them without being reviewed by a nurse or doctor. Furthermore, 400 patients had been prescribed long-acting reliever medicines without inhaled steroids.
Applying this incidence to the whole of the UK suggests tens of thousands of people with asthma could have these medication errors, says Asthma UK. There are about 5.4 million people in the UK on asthma treatment – a million of these are children.
Matthew Hodson, chairman of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists, said: “This report sadly highlights continuing concerns, a year on from the national review, that patients with asthma may not always be receiving the best evidence based care in terms of the drugs they are prescribed and how they are used”.
Whilst asthma can be a serious condition, people can live with it and lead a normal life, providing it is managed correctly. A huge part of this is making sure doctors intervene early and ensure preventative medication is given as well as used to relieve symptoms in emergencies.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, stated: “The NHS as a whole needs to ensure that staff have the opportunity to update their skills and knowledge regularly, and should have time to carry out proper reviews of the treatment for all their patients.”
Asthma UK have ensured sufferers not to panic and confirmed those who may be affected are not at immediate risk. They have also put guidance on their website for anyone with concerns.