Allergies cost UK £1 billion per annum

Britain has one of the highest prevalence of eczema, asthma, hay fever and other allergies in the world and ranks top in Europe for these disorders — but there is a shortage of allergy specialists in the UK, linked reports reveal in the April 2004 edition of Clinical and Experimental Allergy. Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen and St George’s Medical School in London say one in five children and adults in Britain suffer from allergies, with annual health services treatment bill running at £1billion. They call for more allergy specialists to meet the increased demand.

The levels of asthma, eczema and hay fever in Britain rose substantially during the second half of the 20th century, say the researchers, although there has recently been a levelling out in the rate of asthma. However, they add that the rates of food and drug allergy, nettle rash and other allergic reactions are increasing rapidly and there needs to be an urgent review of specialist allergy care provision. Many patients are now seeking help for their conditions from alternative sources such as herbalists and homoepathic practitioners because of dissatisfaction with the mainstream health services.

Professor Aziz Sheikh, Professor of Primary Care Research and Development at the University of Edinburgh who co-authored both articles, explains: “ Unlike many industrialized countries, almost all allergic disorders are managed in the UK within primary care where they are responsible for an estimated 8 per cent of GP consultations. Lack of training of GPs in meeting this role, difficulties in accessing allergy testing and the shortage of allergy specialists are all seen to be possible barriers to high quality care and many explain why increasing numbers of patients are seeking care outside the NHS.

“The cost of £1 billion each year to the health service does not include any indirect, personal or business costs such as school or work days lost, over-the-counter medications, alternative therapies or quality of life lost. These findings show we need to develop national educational programmes for GPs and their staff and underscore the need for an early reassessment of the specialist allergy services we offer.”

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