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Solicitor Lucy Crawford considers recent research from Asthma UK, reporting that the majority of asthma sufferers do not receive basic medical care for their condition, and the potential cause of this.
Asthma is a chronic disease and if not treated correctly can cause permanent damage to your lungs and airways. Recent figures from Asthma UK suggest a staggering two thirds of patients are not receiving basic care to control their symptoms. So is this another example of stretched budgets in the health service affecting patient health, or could patients do more to help themselves?
What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways. It results in tight chestedness, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. Often sufferers have ‘triggers’ such as pollution, animal hair or pollen. This can result in sudden flare ups in the condition. If left untreated it can cause permanent damage to your airways.
I have asthma and at times it can be extremely debilitating. It can be unpredictable so you feel healthy and well one day and the next, tight chested with difficulty breathing. I call it ‘the elephant sat on my chest’. It’s an unpleasant experience so I do everything I can to make sure that my symptoms are as well controlled as possible. I have only ever experienced extremely good care from my GP so when I read the recent figures from Asthma UK I was very surprised and shocked.
How is the condition treated and controlled?
There is no ‘cure’ for asthma but symptoms can be so well controlled that it has little to no effect on a person lifestyle.
Generally, asthma is controlled using short term blue ‘reliever’ inhalers, which should be taken if a sufferer experiences an exacerbation of symptoms and serve to open up the airways to help the sufferer to breathe more easily. Patients who are taking this more than 2 or 3 times a week (particularly at night when symptoms are often worse) will usually be recommended a ‘preventer’ inhaler to be taken daily by their asthma nurse or GP. This contains a low dose of steroid medicine called corticosteroids which work over time to prevent swelling and inflammation in the airways (so in theory the patient does not need to take the blue reliever inhaler).
Occasionally if symptoms get very bad very quickly (for instance due to a bad cold) then a patient may also need a tablet steroid to quickly reduce excess inflammation.
Some patients will need to take preventer inhalers all year round, others only in summer months e.g. when the pollen count is high. The condition is completely patient specific and it is therefore essential for patients to have regular reviews with their asthma nurse or GP to discuss their individual symptoms.
What is happening in reality?
Asthma UK recently published their findings from their annual survey of 4,500 patients with the condition. They found that two thirds of people are not receiving ‘basic care’ i.e. attending a review with their GP at least once a year or on the correct medication to adequately control their symptoms. Considering in 2015, 1,468 people died from the condition, this is a staggering assessment of care.
Responses to this research suggest that this is due to a combination of both patients failing to attend appointments when called, and also restrictions in funding and pressure on primary care (GP) services to actually carry out the appointments.
This research is of interest to me personally, as someone with asthma, but also professionally as a Solicitor acting for patients who have suffered due to failings in their care. Planned medical reviews, be it asthma or for another reason, are often crucial in picking up issues at an early stage, which can then be managed to ensure the best outcome for the patient.
In my experience, asthma is a condition that often goes unnoticed and patients themselves don’t always realise the severity of their symptoms. GP surgeries need to ensure asthma clinic reviews are freely available, and I am also a strong believer in patients also taking control of their own health decisions. They need to be given the necessary information about their individual triggers and symptoms, and then take responsibility and ensure they seek GP guidance in the event of any concerning symptoms.
I hope that greater awareness of the condition, and the importance of regular reviews, will lead to better control and a reduction in serious health complications.