Asthma patients miss out on ‘life-saving’ care because of NHS failure, charity warns

TENS of thousands of asthmatics may have missed out on life-saving care, shocking new stats reveal.

One in four people needed emergency care after a potentially deadly attack, Asthma UK found.

Getty – Contributor1 64 per cent of people who received emergency care after an asthma attack didn't receive any follow-up treatment

But of those people, 64 per cent didn't receive a follow-up appointment with their GP or practice nurse within two working days, after being seen at A&E.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that everyone receives an appointment within 48 hours of having emergency treatment for an asthma attack.

Follow up with GP prevents deadly attacks

Lynn Rawes, 43, a clinical support worker from Lancaster, had emergency treatment for an asthma attack in October last year but couldn’t get follow-up treatment from her GP.

Three days later she was readmitted to hospital having suffered another asthma attack.

“I was rushed to A&E after a dog allergy triggered a terrifying asthma attack and I was kept in hospital for two days," she said.

"When I was discharged, I was advised to arrange a follow-up GP appointment, but I couldn’t get an appointment for two weeks.

"I explained to my GP surgery that I’d had emergency treatment for an asthma attack but they said they couldn’t fit me in.

“Within three days I was in a terrible state. I was wheezing constantly and my reliever inhaler wasn’t helping so I ended up back at A&E and admitted to hospital for another day."

'Having another asthma attack when I was still recovering from the first was horrendous'

Lynn said that it was "disgraceful" that people like her aren't getting follow-up care.

“The NHS needs to make it easier for people – I felt as though I was bouncing from pillar to post just to access the care I needed when I was vulnerable and exhausted.

"If I’d had a follow-up appointment with my doctor, they could have spotted my asthma symptoms were out of control and helped me manage my asthma so I didn’t end up in hospital again.”

One in six people who have emergency treatment for their asthma have another attack within the next two weeks – while last year, nearly 5,000 people in England were readmitted into hospital within 30 days of being admitted for an asthma attack.

Why aren't people getting follow-up care?

Two-thirds of those who didn't get it said they didn't know that they should have follow-up care, and 22 per cent said they couldn't get an appointment with their GP because there was so availability.

Asthma UK is calling for GPs to receive an alert if their patient has had emergency treatment for their asthma, via better technology.

Until that happens, the charity is encouraging people with asthma to urgently book a follow-up appointment with their GP within 48 hours of having an asthma attack – particularly if they've been attended to by a paramedic or medics at hospital, or if they've had to use a "rescue" pack of steroids.

'Gravely concerning'

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP, said: “It’s gravely concerning that so many people with asthma could be missing out on life-saving follow-up care.

"Once you have had an asthma attack, you are much more vulnerable to having another one.

"This is because there is more inflammation in your lungs so you are more sensitive to any asthma trigger such as cold weather or pollution. It is vital people see their doctor so they can get the help they need to avoid another asthma attack.

“Patients are slipping through the cracks because NHS systems are letting them down. It is vital that the NHS embraces technology to ensure patients get joined-up care.

"It needs to put systems in place so that patients are automatically given follow-up care if they have had emergency treatment.

"It could save lives.”

If you have difficulty getting a GP appointment, the charity recommends explaining the situation to your surgery receptionist so you can be prioritised.

What to do after an asthma attack

Only one in six people who have emergency treatment for an asthma attack have another attack within two weeks.

Asthma UK recommends three steps after you've had an attack to prevent another one happening:

  •  Book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse – even if you feel well
    See them within 48 hours of your attack if you can. Tell them you need an urgent appointment because you've had an asthma attack. If your asthma symptoms are getting worse at any point, book an appointment with your GP today.
  • Keep taking your asthma medicines as prescribed
    "Preventer medicines will take down the swelling in your airways. This will make your airways less sensitive to asthma triggers. It will also reduce your symptoms," says Asthma UK specialist nurse Kathy.
  • Plan recovery time into your day
    After an asthma attack, it's important to try and rest as much as you need to. Ask friends and family to help with the kids, or get signed off work by your doctor. Everyone's different so it's important to do what's right for you. Lots of people do feel physically and emotionally tired.
  • You should make an emergency appointment with your GP or asthma nurse if:

    • You've managed an attack by using your blue inhaler – even if you didn't need to call an ambulence
    • You went to hospital or called an ambuelnce
    • If you've had an asthma attack over two weeks ago but didn't see your GP at the time
    • You used any of your "rescue pack" of steroid pills

    During an urgent appointment, your doctor can:

    • give you a clear recovery plan for the next two weeks
    • prescribe a week of oral steroid tablets (prednisolone) that will help reduce airway sensitivity and inflammation. Most people will be prescribed these to take alongside their existing asthma medicines.
    • check you are no longer at immediate risk of an asthma attack – especially important if you didn't go to hospital.
    • review your existing medicines and asthma action plan in case a change of dose or tweak of inhaler technique could help.
    • update your records to show you have had an attack.

    After that, you need to carry on taking your medications and looking after yourself, while tracking symptoms.

    If you still have any symptoms after you've finished the course of oral steroid pills that your GP prescribed in your first appointment, book a follow-up appointment with them.

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    Failing that, you can see your surgery's asthma nurse, attend a walk-in clinic or call 111 to get expert help.

    Asthma UK says that better information-sharing across the NHS could have helped to prevent the tragic death of 11-year-old Tamara Mills.

    She was seen 47 times by different medical professionals across primary and secondary care in the four years before her death, but no one spotted that she was high-risk because her healthcare records were not shared.

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