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      The national review of asthma deaths: what did we learn and what needs to change?



      European Respiratory Society

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          Key points
          • The 2014 UK National Review of Asthma Deaths identified potentially preventable factors in two-thirds of the medical records of cases scrutinised

          • 45% of people who died from asthma did not call for or receive medical assistance in their final fatal attack

          • Overall asthma management, acute and chronic, in primary and secondary care was judged to be good in less than one-fifth of those who died

          • There was a failure by doctors and nurses to identify and act on risk factors for asthma attacks and asthma death

          • The rationale for diagnosing asthma was not evident in a considerable number of cases, and there were inaccuracies related to the completion of medical certificates of the cause of death in over half of the cases considered for the UK National Review of Asthma Deaths

          Educational aims
          • To increase awareness of some of the findings of the recent UK National Review of Asthma Deaths and previous similar studies

          • To emphasise the need for accurate diagnosis of asthma, and of the requirements for completion of medical certificates of the cause of death

          • To consider areas for improving asthma care and prevention of attacks and avoidable deaths


          Despite the development and publication of evidence-based asthma guidelines nearly three decades ago, potentially preventable factors are repeatedly identified in studies of the care provided for patients who die from asthma. The UK National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD), a confidential enquiry, was no exception: major preventable factors were identified in two-thirds of asthma deaths. Most of these factors, such as inappropriate prescription and failure to provide patients with personal asthma action plans (PAAPs), could possibly have been prevented had asthma guidelines been implemented.

          NRAD involved in-depth scrutiny by clinicians of the asthma care for 276 people who were classified with asthma as the underlying cause of death in real-life. A striking finding was that a third of these patients did not actually die from asthma, and many had no recorded rationale for an asthma diagnosis.

          The apparent complacency with respect to asthma care, highlighted in NRAD, serves as a wake-up call for health professionals, patients and their carers to take asthma more seriously. Based on the NRAD evidence, the report made 19 recommendations for change. The author has selected six areas related to the NRAD findings for discussion and provides suggestions for change in the provision of asthma care. The six areas are: systems for provision and optimisation of asthma care, diagnosis, identifying risk, implementation of guidelines, improved patient education and self-management, and improved quality of completion of medical certificates of the cause of death.

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          Most cited references 47

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          A 10 year asthma programme in Finland: major change for the better.

          A National Asthma Programme was undertaken in Finland from 1994 to 2004 to improve asthma care and prevent an increase in costs. The main goal was to lessen the burden of asthma to individuals and society. The action programme focused on implementation of new knowledge, especially for primary care. The main premise underpinning the campaign was that asthma is an inflammatory disease and requires anti-inflammatory treatment from the outset. The key for implementation was an effective network of asthma-responsible professionals and development of a post hoc evaluation strategy. In 1997 Finnish pharmacies were included in the Pharmacy Programme and in 2002 a Childhood Asthma mini-Programme was launched. The incidence of asthma is still increasing, but the burden of asthma has decreased considerably. The number of hospital days has fallen by 54% from 110 000 in 1993 to 51 000 in 2003, 69% in relation to the number of asthmatics (n = 135 363 and 207 757, respectively), with the trend still downwards. In 1993, 7212 patients of working age (9% of 80 133 asthmatics) received a disability pension from the Social Insurance Institution compared with 1741 in 2003 (1.5% of 116 067 asthmatics). The absolute decrease was 76%, and 83% in relation to the number of asthmatics. The increase in the cost of asthma (compensation for disability, drugs, hospital care, and outpatient doctor visits) ended: in 1993 the costs were 218 million euro which had fallen to 213.5 million euro in 2003. Costs per patient per year have decreased 36% (from 1611 euro to 1031 euro). It is possible to reduce the morbidity of asthma and its impact on individuals as well as on society. Improvements would have taken place without the programme, but not of this magnitude.
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            A new perspective on concepts of asthma severity and control.

            Concepts of asthma severity and control are important in the evaluation of patients and their response to treatment but the terminology is not standardised and the terms are often used interchangeably. This review, arising from the work of an American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society Task Force, identifies the need for separate concepts of control and severity, describes their evolution in asthma guidelines and provides a framework for understanding the relationship between current concepts of asthma phenotype, severity and control. "Asthma control" refers to the extent to which the manifestations of asthma have been reduced or removed by treatment. Its assessment should incorporate the dual components of current clinical control (e.g. symptoms, reliever use and lung function) and future risk (e.g. exacerbations and lung function decline). The most clinically useful concept of asthma severity is based on the intensity of treatment required to achieve good asthma control, i.e. severity is assessed during treatment. Severe asthma is defined as the requirement for (not necessarily just prescription or use of) high-intensity treatment. Asthma severity may be influenced by the underlying disease activity and by the patient's phenotype, both of which may be further described using pathological and physiological markers. These markers can also act as surrogate measures for future risk.
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              A cohort analysis of excess mortality in asthma and the use of inhaled beta-agonists.

              The association between the use of inhaled beta-agonists and the risk of death and near-death from asthma has previously been reported. It was based on a nested case-control study of 129 cases and 655 control subjects selected from a cohort of 12,301 users of asthma drugs followed during the period 1980 through 1987. In this paper we examine the question of asthma and non-asthma mortality using data from the entire cohort of 12,301 asthmatics. There were 46 asthma and 134 non-asthma deaths in this cohort, for which there were 47,842 person-years of follow-up. The overall rate of asthma death was 9.6 per 10,000 asthmatics per year. This rate varied significantly according to the use of fenoterol, albuterol, or oral corticosteroids in the prior 12 months and the number of asthma hospitalizations in the prior 2 years. The rate decreased significantly, by 0.6 asthma deaths per 10,000 asthmatics per year over the study period, after controlling for the effect of the four other risk factors. It also increased significantly with the use of all beta-agonists, and more so for fenoterol than for albuterol, although this difference was partly explained by the dose inequivalence of the two drugs. Change-point dose-response curves showed that the risk of asthma death began to escalate drastically at about 1.4 canisters (of 20,000 micrograms each) per month of inhaled beta-agonist, the recommended limit. For non-asthma death, the overall rate of 28 deaths per 10,000 asthmatics per year was not related to the use of inhaled beta-agonists.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

                Author and article information

                Breathe (Lausanne)
                Breathe (Lausanne)
                European Respiratory Society
                March 2015
                : 11
                : 1
                : 14-24
                Sessional general practitioner, London, UK
                Author notes
                Mark L. Levy, Kenton Bridge Medical Centre, 155–175 Kenton Road, Harrow, HA3 0YX, UK. E-mail: marklevy@ 123456animalswild.com
                ©ERS 2015

                Breathe articles are open access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Licence 4.0.



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