No room for complacency in fight against asthma

Far from being 'sorted', asthma is still the cause of unnecessary deaths. Deborah Waddell sets out how nurses can help

The equivalent of a classroom full of children dies from asthma in the UK every year, yet there remains a misconception among the public and some healthcare professionals that asthma is a condition that’s ‘sorted’.

How do we know? The National Review of Asthma Deaths, published by the Royal College of Physicians, is the first review of its kind and follows months of intense interviews with bereaved parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to asthma. The authors sought to determine whether those deaths were preventable and how lives could have been saved.

The report makes for uncomfortable reading for those working in the NHS as it reveals that almost half of these deaths could have been prevented and articulates how the system has failed these families.

My nursing colleagues who conducted some of these interviews for the report fed back that this was intense, emotional work as the relatives relayed how they watched their loved ones experience an asthma attack and when they sought help they were faced with delays in getting appointments.

As a nurse, I know reports like the National Review of Asthma Deaths run the risk of demoralising the profession as the media highlights how the healthcare services got it wrong.

But I also know that in my working life as the clinical lead for Asthma UK I come across examples every day of healthcare professionals who are providing excellent care to people with asthma. If there’s one thing that I would like to result from the publication of this review, it is that we challenge the incorrect perception that asthma is ‘sorted’ when the reality is that three people die every day from the condition.

Sharing best practice

We hear anecdotally of many practice nurses who have been delegated asthma care by their GPs and feel a sense of isolation at finding themselves in this situation without the knowledge, skills, training and confidence to provide this care.

To address this, Asthma UK has launched a Healthcare Professionals’ Community for healthcare professionals to receive regular case studies profiling the excellent care we come across, signposting to training bursaries, events, and free CPD modules. In the future we will look to connect healthcare professionals with like-minded colleagues who want to improve asthma care.

Just before I began writing this blog, a colleague asked me what the contributory factors were in those areas that do manage to deliver excellent asthma care. The answer was simple: healthcare professionals who are able to work together with patients towards effective self-management, specifically the three asthma basics: annual review, action plan and showing patients how to use their inhaler correctly.

So while we shall continue to hear the accounts of individuals who have lost loved ones, it will be individuals in the NHS who bring about the changes needed to ensure the quality of asthma care improves. Please do your bit - as an individual - and join our community to make a difference and stop more preventable asthma deaths.

To join the Asthma UK Healthcare Professionals’ Community go to www.asthma.org.uk/hcp. The community is free to join and members receive a complimentary welcome pack and quarterly newsletter.

About the author

Deborah Waddell is Asthma UK’s clinical lead adviser

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