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Nurses back asthma death study

Asthma treatmentMay 6 – Complacency about asthma is contributing to dozens of deaths every year in the UK, according to a report published today. Nearly half of those who died did not have any medical help during their final fatal attack, according to the study published for World Asthma Day.

The National Review of Asthma Deaths studied the fate of some 193 people, including 28 children. It showed that in 65 cases there was no record of the victim seeking medical help while in 22 instances, patients did not get help in time. Most children and teenagers – 21 in total – died before they reached hospital.

Researchers from the Royal College of Physicians said the care received by 25% of those who died was “less than satisfactory.” And in 80% of cases care could have been improved, it said. The study showed that 57% of the victims had not received specialist supervision in the year before dying. But 10% died within a month of being discharged from hospital following asthma treatment – and 21% had been in an emergency department during the previous year. There was “widespread” under-use of preventer inhalers and over-reliance on relievers.

The study found that neither patients nor clinicians realised the severity of attacks in more than 50% of the fatalities. And 19% of those who died were smokers while many children were exposed to smoke in the home. The report calls for improved education for doctors, nurses, patients and carers to recognise the warning signs of poor asthma control. And every hospital and GP practice should have a named clinician for asthma services, it said. The report was backed by the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists.

Its chair Rebecca Sherrington said:” The expertise does exist to provide meaningful help when people most need it.

“It will take a co-ordinated effort to ensure that there are enough specialist nurses, and enough training for all other clinical staff. Not delivering these improvements is simply not an option if we are to prevent more individuals dying needlessly.”

Dr Kevin Stewart, from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “It’s time to end our complacency about asthma, which can, and does, kill.

“We haven’t paid enough attention to the importance of good routine asthma care by clinicians with the right training and experience and the part that patients themselves play in this.

“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.”

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