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Asthma death increase requires ‘greater investigation’, say GP experts

GP respiratory experts have said that ‘greater investigation’ is required to understand the rise in asthma deaths revealed in recent statistics.

The number of people who died from an asthma attack peaked last year with 1,320 deaths, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It was the highest number of asthma deaths on record, up from 1,237 deaths last year, and an increase of more than 25% from ten years ago.

Experts said the numbers are inflated due to misdiagnosis of uncontrolled asthma in older patients.

Almost three-quarters of the deaths were of women, and 86% occurred in people over the age of 60.

Dr Dermot Ryan, GP and president of the international Respiratory Effectiveness Group, said: ‘Death certificates are some degree of indication that asthma is not well-managed, but there is not an epidemic of people over the age of 60 who are having severe, uncontrolled asthma.’

But he added: ‘There is an epidemic of people in the whole of the UK having uncontrolled asthma.’

Dr Ryan explained patients ‘are being treated for asthma, with a diagnosis of asthma, they are not controlled and they appear as uncontrolled asthma.’

He said: ‘This is something which needs far greater investigation.’

Dr Ryan warned that nearly a third of patients being treated at difficult asthma clinics do not have asthma, he said many have ‘dysfunctional breathing, a vocal cord dysfunction, occasionally COPD or interstitial lung disease’.

Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, said the statistics were ‘shocking’ with ‘a worrying trend upwards’.

Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister, said ‘the Government needs to act now to save lives’ and called the rising death rate ‘a consequence of Tory cuts to our NHS’.

NICE updated its asthma guidance earlier this year, asking GPs to use spirometry and FeNO testing for diagnosis, rather than simply relying on symptoms.