AsthmaNICE has issued draft guidance setting out what medicines adults, young people and children with asthma should take to control symptoms and reduce asthma attacks.

The draft guidance, now out for public consultation, calls for a change in how medicines are offered – a move that could save the NHS millions of pounds, NICE has said.

The NHS currently spends £1 billion a year treating and caring for people with asthma, with about 4.5 million people in England receiving treatment for the condition, according to Asthma UK estimates. 

NICE has said people should get a 7p a day tablet earlier than current practice. It estimates that for every 10,000 people who take up the new recommendation, the NHS could save £3 million a year.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the NICE centre for guidelines, said: “With this new guideline we want to give clear guidance on how health professionals can help people take control of their symptoms so they can live life to the fullest.

“We also need to make the best use of NHS resources and our guidance is the first to set out what the most clinical and cost-effective options for treating asthma are.”

NICE says health professionals should now offer a tablet called a leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) before the combination inhaler.

The evidence for combination inhalers and LTRAs shows that they are both clinically effective. Due to its lower price, NICE’s independent guideline committee said that LTRA was significantly more cost-effective and would be better value for money for the NHS.

Adults and young people can still move on to combination inhalers if LTRAs do not work for them. NICE says to refer children to a specialist at this stage. Anyone already using a combination inhaler will not need to switch if it is working well for them.

The draft guideline also describes how health professionals should help people self-manage. It recommends they offer people a written plan with details of their triggers, how to adjust medicines and when to seek help.

The draft guideline is out for public consultation until Thursday 16 February.