Asthma care plan would help out NHS
The scale of the asthma epidemic in Northern Ireland is shocking with one in 10 of the population affected. Yet it is a poorly understood condition with very little evidence of what causes it.
Genetic factors are thought to play a part, but so too are environmental ones such as air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools and modern hygiene standards.
What is known is that it is a long-term condition but one which can be managed. Failure to do so, however, can lead to a worsening of the condition and severe asthma attacks which can prove fatal. Last year 44 people in Northern Ireland died in that way.
While the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland is pro rata among the worst in the UK, the national rate of one in 11 people is among the highest in Europe. Quite why this is so is again not apparent.
While the day-to-day lives of the vast majority of people are largely unaffected by the condition it can be a frightening experience if it suddenly worsens or an attack takes place.
The prevalence of the condition is obviously a huge challenge for the health service and it is estimated that asthma care costs the UK £1.1bn annually. For a cash-strapped NHS that is a huge drain on valuable resources and makes the need for effective management of asthma all the more compelling.
An immediate starting point should be the devising of an asthma care plan for every sufferer. Currently it is estimated that only one in three receive such a plan which could reduce the number of routine GP appointments and free up resources to allow greater focus on those with the more severe symptoms.
It is suggested that an effective asthma plan can reduce hospital admissions by a factor of four.
Digital technology is also proposed as an effective method of helping patients manage their condition. If the normal paper plans were digitised and sent to patients' smartphones, it could help them respond more rapidly to any changes in their symptoms.
It has also been suggested that smart inhalers linked to smartphones could assist doctors in tracking how patients were managing their condition and who needs greatest attention. All of these suggestions require political approval to meet the funding costs as the technology is available, but it is argued that the initial outlay on digital healthcare could be recouped in savings in GP time and treatment costs.