Deaths from asthma attacks are at the highest point for a decade and have increased by more than 33% over the last ten years, according to Asthma UK’s analysis of data from The Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Asthma UK is now is calling on the NHS to take urgent action including addressing the lack of basic asthma care.

More than 1,400 people died from an asthma attack last year, an 8% increase on figures from 2017.

The findings reveal an increase in men dying from asthma attacks, while there has also been a 42% increase in deaths amongst people aged 35–44 in the last year.

Additionally, there has been a 25% increase in asthma deaths in the South-East, and London has seen a 17% increase from 2017 to 2018.

Asthma UK has said a lack of basic asthma care may have contributed to the rise, as 60% of people with asthma in England and Wales – an estimated 2.9 million people – are not receiving basic care as recommended by national guidelines.

The National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD), commissioned by the NHS and Department of Health five years ago, found that two-thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented by better basic care. Of the 19 recommendations made by NRAD, only one has been partially implemented.

Asthma UK’s analysis also revealed that:

  • More than 12,700 people have died from asthma in England and Wales in the last decade
  • There has been a 17% increase in the “age-standardised” asthma death rate over the last six years

Basic care, which every asthma patient is entitled to, should include a yearly review with a GP or asthma nurse, a written asthma action plan which explains how people with asthma can stay well and an inhaler technique check.

Whilst child asthma deaths are rare, in recent years there have been tragic cases of children who have died because they have failed to get the basic care they needed. For example, Michael Uriely (aged 9) died in August 2015, after being hospitalised 11 times in seven months with his asthma. Sophie Holman (aged 10) died in December 2017 after being seen by the NHS for her asthma 48 times in her lifetime and endured at least 10 life-threatening asthma attacks. In both cases, the Coroner identified that the children did not have a written asthma action plan – a core element of basic care – and this, along with a lack of joined up care, contributed to their deaths.

Nicki Davis, 49, a mum from Wimblington, Cambridgeshire lost her eight-year-old son Bailey, a twin, to a fatal asthma attack in March 2017 and is now campaigning to raise awareness of the seriousness of asthma. She says: “Bailey was such a kind, loving son and was inseparable from his twin brother, Mason. His asthma was mild, and it didn’t get in the way of him doing the things that he loved but in March 2017, after a day at school, everything changed.

“He came into my room and said: ‘Mummy, I can’t breathe properly.’ I helped him take a couple of puffs of his reliever inhaler but suddenly, like a flick of a light switch, he collapsed. I screamed for help whilst trying to do CPR and my friend heard and rushed to help, then called the emergency services. The paramedics were working on him for over an hour, but they couldn’t revive him in hospital. Bailey died in front of me, at just eight years old.

“No-one should have to go through what we have. It’s appalling that in this day and age people are still dying from asthma. How many more lives have to be cut short before people realise how serious asthma can be? Everyone with asthma should get basic asthma care to keep them well. It could save lives.”

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: “It is completely unacceptable that thousands of people with asthma in England and Wales have died needlessly from asthma attacks.

“It’s been five years since the National Review of Asthma Deaths found that two-thirds of deaths from asthma attacks could have been prevented with basic care, yet we are still seeing tragic cases of lives being cut short.

“The same mistakes are being made again and again because essential recommendations have not been implemented. This lack of action is costing lives and devastating families and communities.

“The NHS must act now to ensure that everyone with asthma in England and Wales gets basic asthma care which includes a yearly review with their GP or asthma nurse, a check to ensure they are using their inhaler properly and a written asthma action plan. The NHS needs to ensure that all healthcare professionals are providing this care to patients.”

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