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Deaths from asthma reach a 12-year high in Northern Ireland

By David Young

Published 01/09/2016

More than 180,000 people across the province suffer from the respiratory condition, according to official figures
More than 180,000 people across the province suffer from the respiratory condition, according to official figures
The DUP’s Paula Bradley
Kay Boycott chief executive of Asthma UK

Asthma killed 44 people in Northern Ireland last year - the highest figure for more than a decade.

And shocking new figures have revealed that more than one in 10 people here are receiving treatment for the illness.

More than 180,000 people across the province suffer from the respiratory condition, according to official figures.

The worrying figures also show that women are much more likely to die from an asthma attack.

Of the 44 people who died from asthma in 2015, 36 were women and only eight were men.

The number of deaths is the highest recorded in a single year since 2004, when 44 people also died.

In 2014, it was just 30, according to the figures from the Northern Ireland and Statistics Research Agency.

Of the 182,000 people currently receiving treatment for asthma, 36,000 are children and 146,000 are adults.

Asthma UK chief executive Kay Boycott said the figures - among the worst in the UK - showed Stormont must now act to provide significantly improved asthma care.

"It is alarming that asthma deaths in Northern Ireland are now at their highest levels in a decade," she added.

"Today's figures are a stark call to the Northern Ireland Assembly to take rapid action to ensure effective care is in place for everyone with asthma and to prevent more people dying unnecessarily from asthma attacks in the future."

Ms Boycott suggested two-thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented with better basic care.

Senior politicians - including a former Stormont minister - last night reacted with concern after learning of the sheer scale of Northern Ireland's asthma epidemic.

Health committee chairwoman Paula Bradley said she was horrified by the news.

"I find these shocking figures extremely alarming - and what is ever more alarming is that many of these lost lives could have been saved through better care and better management of the sufferer's long-term condition," the DUP woman added. "As an Assembly, we are trying to promote better manage for people with long term conditions such as asthma.

"But for people to manage their care effectively, they need better input from professionals.

"The health committee will want to look at how the management of long-term conditions such as asthma can be improved.

"I think that overall - not just with asthma - there are a lot of long-term conditions that end up with hospital admissions, and even fatalities, because they are not being managed properly. We need to keep this issue of long term management of illness to the fore - it can save lives."

SDLP health committee member and former Environment Minster Mark H Durkan also expressed concern at the figures.

"The prevalence of the condition gives great cause for concern, but what given even more cause for concern is that asthma has taken 44 lives last year," he said. "That shouldn't be the case. Asthma can be managed.

"There are steps that the department and health trusts could be taking to facilitate better asthma management, and make it easier for sufferers to manage their condition."

Mr Durkan also warned against complacency.

"Maybe the more prevalent asthma becomes, the less seriously people seem to take it - including the people who are suffering from it," he said. "More needs to be done to raise public awareness of asthma, and to help sufferers manage their asthma."

The Foyle MLA said he intended to table a formal question to the Health Minister when the Assembly returns.

Asthma UK said that there were many complex factors that could set off an asthma attack.

"We know numerous triggers affect people with asthma, making their condition worse and putting them at increased risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack," it added.

"The start of 2015 was a particularly challenging winter for people with asthma with less effective flu vaccines and severe cold snaps.

"We saw an increase in emergency hospital admissions for respiratory conditions including asthma at this time, and this is likely to be one of the factors behind the rise in asthma deaths last year."

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