Postcode lottery in acute asthma care

asthma2 The incidence of hospital admissions for acute asthma episodes varies almost 20-fold between areas of the UK.

Data released by Asthma UK for 2010–11 show that variations in access to ambulances and A&E facilities are putting many asthma patients at risk.

The charity has launched an online tool to help patients and their families compare local asthma care with national standards.

The variations cannot be attributed to differences in the incidence of asthma attacks, since some areas – such as Tower Hamlets in east London – where hospital admissions are low have high air pollution rates.

The charity called the inequalities “alarming”, since three in every 200 acute asthma episodes are fatal.

In 2010–11, 39 in every 100,000 children in Tower Hamlets were admitted to hospital as an emergency asthma case, compared to 733 in Liverpool.

Adult asthma care also showed wide variation: 30 in every 100,000 adults in Bromley, Kent underwent emergency admissions, compared to 193 in Newham, east London.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK, commented: “Guidelines are in place to give doctors and nurses the information and advice they need to prevent asthma attacks and save lives. But if these are not put into practice, they’re just a piece of paper.”

Asthma UK’s Compare Your Care tool offers comparative information to help local health providers meet national standards in asthma care, and help patients make informed choices about their care.

Emily Humphreys, the charity’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “We’re alarmed to see that people’s risk of ending up in hospital with an asthma attack depends on where they live. The next step is to build a picture of where care is good and where it may be falling behind.”