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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Health Secretary gets your campaign dossier

Daniel Cressey reports from the General Practice Airways Group annual conference

GPs can combat 'appalling' levels of asthma control using a new screening tool to identify patients in need of more intensive treatment, researchers report.

The structured questionnaire successfully identified patients who were poorly controlled on inhaled steroids or failing to adhere to treatment.

Study leader Professor David Price, professor of primary care respiratory medicine at the University of Aberdeen, said the tool could have a 'substantial' impact on practice.

Professor Price, who is also a sessional GP in Norfolk, added: 'It brings together information on asthma control, adherence, reasons for poor adherence, rhinitis and smoking all in one.'

Professor Price and his colleagues developed the Minimal Asthma Assessment Tool (MAAT) from the Royal College of Physicians' 'three questions' asthma assessment.

Their new pilot study, reported at this week's conference in Crewe, validated the tool in 78 patients taking inhaled ster-oids for asthma.

It reliably assessed patient perspectives on their care and found those who were not adhering to steroids often had concerns over their use or doubts about their need for regular treatment.

A related study using MAAT and also presented at the conference found 60 per cent of smokers and more than 40 per cent of non-smokers on inhaled steroids showed poor symptom control.

Dr Dermot Ryan, a member of the British Thoracic Society who participated in the MAAT project, said: 'Nothing has come this close to unveiling the appalling control that patients have at the moment.'

Dr Ryan, a GP in Loughborough, Leicestershire, add-ed: 'This tool demonstrates how seriously we underestimate patient control.'

Researchers said the tool could be posted to asthma patients to assess control.

Dr Stan Musgrave, a researcher on both studies and senior research associate at the University of East Anglia's school of medicine, health policy and practice, said: 'It's a scanning questionnaire to identify those who need follow-up.'

How MAAT screening tool identifies high-risk patients

·Two-page questionnaire based on existing validated questions, including the RCP's 'three questions'

·Can be posted out to patients or filled in with nurse in the practice

·Assesses day and night-time symptom control, adherence to and aspirations towards treatment, and presence of rhinitis and smoking

·For further information, contact Annie Blythe at a.blythe@uea.ac.uk

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