Unsafe asthma prescribing highlighted

NEW analysis by Asthma UK has revealed that over 22,000 UK asthma sufferers have been prescribed long-acting reliever inhalers without preventative therapy, putting lives at risk.

The research also indicates that almost 100,000 people with asthma have been prescribed too many short-acting reliever inhalers (more than 12 in a year) without review as advised by national clinical guidelines, leaving them at risk of life-threatening asthma attacks.

Data from over 500 UK GP practice systems extracted during 2010-2013 was analysed in the research and the results echo findings from last year’s National Review of Asthma Deaths, which highlighted prescribing errors in nearly half of asthma deaths in primary care (47 per cent).

In a statement, Asthma UK points out that the use of a long-acting reliever inhaler alone (without a steroid preventer inhaler or as a combination inhaler) is dangerous as it helps to keep the airways open but does not treat the underlying inflammation. "This leaves the airways of people with asthma inflamed and more likely to react to triggers such as pollen or pollution, putting them at risk of having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack."

The organisation also points out that prescribing more than 12 short-acting reliever inhalers in a year (used more than three times each week) without a medical consultation is a key indicator for treatment review.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: "The UK has some of the highest mortality rates for asthma in Western Europe and the levels of unsafe prescribing identified in our report today must be stopped. It is crucial that healthcare professionals review their systems and urgently recall patients who have been prescribed long-acting reliever inhalers on their own without a steroid preventer, or not as a combination inhaler."

She adds: "Anyone who is using their reliever inhaler more than 3 times a week and hasn’t had a recent review should contact their GP as soon as possible."

Dr Mark Levy, GP and author of The National Review of Asthma Deaths, says: "Asthma UK’s report is welcome as it echoes the findings from the National Review of Asthma Deaths. There is widespread failure to recognise risk of attacks and therefore asthma death. Yet the reality is that deaths can be prevented when symptoms are managed effectively, with safe use of asthma medicines and in partnership with the patient."