Asthma deaths in England and Wales ‘highest in a decade’

Bailey was eight when he diedImage copyright Asthma UK
Image caption Bailey, eight, died suddenly from an asthma attack after a day at school

Deaths from asthma in England and Wales are the highest they have been in more than a decade, according to analysis of official data.

More than 1,400 adults and children died from asthma attacks in 2018 – that’s 2.5 people out of every 100,000.

The charity Asthma UK said too many lives were being cut short by a lack of basic care, such as inhaler checks.

GPs’ leaders said more staff in practices were needed so doctors could spend longer with asthma patients.

But with research linking some childhood asthmas to air pollution, NHS England said it couldn’t solve the problem on its own.

Nearly five million people in England and Wales have asthma, a condition that affects the airways.

It can cause breathlessness, wheezing, coughing and a tight chest.

Overall, more than 12,700 people have died from asthma in England and Wales in the past 10 years.

‘He collapsed like a flick of a light switch’

One of those was eight-year-old Bailey, twin brother of Mason, from Cambridgeshire, who had mild asthma.

Their mum, Nicki Davis, 49, says Bailey’s condition didn’t stop him from doing the things he loved.

However, one day after school in 2017, everything changed.

“He came into my room and said, ‘Mummy, I can’t breathe properly.’

Image copyright Asthma UK
Image caption Bailey (left) and Mason (right) were twins

“I helped him take a couple of puffs of his reliever inhaler but suddenly, like a flick of a light switch, he collapsed,” Nicki says.

She screamed for help while trying to do CPR and called emergency services.

“The paramedics were working on him for over an hour but they couldn’t revive him in hospital,” Nicki says.

“Bailey died in front of me, at just eight years old.

“No-one should have to go through what we have.

“How many more lives have to be cut short before people realise how serious asthma can be?”

Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, said it was “completely unacceptable that thousands of people with asthma in England and Wales have died needlessly” from asthma attacks.

Five years ago, a national review found two-thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented.

And, Ms Boycott added, there were still “tragic cases of lives being cut short”.

Since 2013, the rate of asthma deaths has increased 17%, from 2.15 to 2.5 per 100,000 people.

In 2018, 20 children aged under 14 died from asthma in 2018, up from 17 in 2017 and 13 the year before.

The data was analysed by Asthma UK from ONS figures.

‘Costing lives’

NHS England national clinical director for respiratory services Mike Morgan said families living with asthma were being better supported thanks to proposals in the NHS long-term plan.

But with one-third of childhood asthma cases being linked to air pollution, he said, “it’s clear that a big part of this challenge cannot be met by the NHS alone”.

Asthma UK said the same mistakes were being made again and again because essential recommendations were not been implemented.

“This lack of action is costing lives and devastating families and communities,” the charity said.

Advice from GPs for asthma patients:

  • always have access to your prescription medication
  • don’t let inhalers run out or expire without getting a replacement
  • understand how to use inhalers, peak flow meters and spacer devices properly

How to ensure you are receiving basic care?

  • use a written asthma action plan – including how to tell whether your asthma is getting worse and what medicine to take
  • check your inhaler technique – even a small tweak could improve symptoms
  • book in for an annual review – so you can talk to your GP about any problems

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