Unsafe prescribing increases risk of life threatening asthma attacks

Last year’s National Review of Asthma Deaths highlighted prescribing errors in nearly half of asthma deaths in primary care (47%). Now new analysis from Asthma UK, based on data from over 500 UK GP practices, reveals evidence that over 22,000 people with asthma in the UK, including 2,000 children, have been prescribed medicines (long-acting reliever inhalers) in a way that is so unsafe they have a ‘black box warning’ in the USA due to the risk they pose to the lives of people with asthma. In addition, the report indicates that almost 100,000 people with asthma have been prescribed too many short-acting reliever inhalers (more than 12 in a year) without national clinical guidelines being followed, leaving them at risk of life threatening asthma attacks.

Asthma medication is safe, but it is dangerous to use a long-acting reliever inhaler alone (without a steroid preventer inhaler or as a combination inhaler). This is because a long-acting reliever inhaler 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. If someone with asthma is prescribed more than 12 short acting reliever inhalers in a year (using it more than 3 times each week) without seeing a doctor it is a key indicator that they are not managing their condition and that their treatment needs reviewing.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, says:

It is simply unacceptable that the lives of people with asthma are being put at risk because of unsafe prescribing. 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. NHS bodies must ensure systems are in place to stop unsafe asthma prescribing from happening and implement all the recommendations from the National Review of Asthma Deaths to improve patient safety and end complacency in asthma care.

Ms Boycott adds:

Anyone with asthma who is concerned by these findings should try not to worry – they are not in any immediate danger. However, it is important that people with asthma really understand their medicines and take an active role in managing their medication. They should check if their inhaler includes Salmeterol, Formoterol or Tiotropium bromide as the only active ingredient and if so book an appointment with their GP or asthma nurse. Anyone who is using their reliever inhaler more than 3 times a week and hasn’t had a recent review should also contact their practice. If people are not sure if this applies to them, they should visit the Asthma UK website for more information or call the Asthma UK Helpline for advice and support on 0800 121 62 44.

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.

Asthma UK Checklist

Don’t stop taking your medication – you are not at immediate risk. These simple steps will help you to actively manage your medicines

Am I taking medication with a ‘black box’ warning in the USA?

  • The first thing to do is to check if you are using an inhaler which has Salmeterol, Formoterol or Tiotropium bromide as the only active ingredient. If you are taking this without a steroid preventer inhaler then you need to contact your GP right away. If you are not sure if this is you, then visit the Asthma UK website for more information about inhalers and health advice about managing your medicines www.asthma.org.uk
  • If you cannot book an appointment right away with your GP, you can also call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0800 121 62 44 for advice and support (Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm).

Taking more than 12 reliever inhalers a year?

  • If you are using your reliever inhaler (often a blue colour) more than 3 times a week (using more than 1 inhaler a month) it’s a sign your asthma is not well controlled. If this is you, book an asthma review with your GP as soon as possible.
  • If you cannot book an appointment right away, visit the Asthma UK website for more information www.asthma.org.uk.
  • You can also call the Asthma UK Helpline nurses on 0800 121 62 44 for advice and support (Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm).

Comments

  1. irina schurov irina schurov Switzerland says:

    Be responsible for your health and health of your children!

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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