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Respiratory Health — [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage 2:30 pm, 3rd February 2015

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I suffer from that myself, so I have an overnight bag in Parliament in case we get stuck here until 4 or 5 in the morning, and it has an inhaler in it. I had to get that inhaler off my dad, because I could not get another one off my own GP. I am a Member of Parliament, but I could not get myself an extra inhaler, so I am not sure what chance a child has of persuading an extra inhaler off the doctor, which his mates will probably just play with. I understand such problems, which is why I said earlier to the Minister that the treatment for asthma has not really changed in the 30 years that I have had it. There has been progress and good news—a number of children will not now die of asthma attacks in school over the next five to 10 years, because those inhalers are in first aid kits. Instead of a mate lending one, it will now be a matter of simply getting it out of the first aid kit, which is good news.

We are seeing great examples of innovation and high-quality asthma care throughout the country, with health care professionals working tirelessly to improve outcomes. They are looking for a cure for asthma. There are centres of excellence, such as the Royal Brompton hospital in London, which provides life-saving specialist care for people with severe asthma—I hope I never have to visit the place. The UK has some of the best asthma researchers, changing the way we think about the causes of asthma. In my constituency thousands of GlaxoSmithKline scientists are working on managing the condition of respiratory diseases on a daily basis; they are leaping forward with the ways in which we can manage such conditions. I thank them all for their brilliant work.

I am sure the Minister is aware that we have some recommendations and questions for him. Shockingly, the NHS does not track its own performance on asthma care. Despite asthma being one of the most common long-term conditions in the UK, no robust data are available. We would like to see a national clinical audit for asthma. Will the Minister commit to supporting such an audit and raise the matter with NHS England? An audit has the potential to stop people needlessly dying from asthma attacks, to improve the quality of life for people with asthma and to reduce costs for the NHS significantly. Such audits are already well established for other long-term conditions such as diabetes.

There should also be greater investment in asthma research. Research into the treatment and care of asthma and other lung conditions is chronically underfunded compared with other conditions such as the other four big killers. The amount of money committed to researching asthma simply does not match the burden it places on the NHS. In spite of that, amazing breakthroughs are taking place and there is potential. Asthma UK is working with the European Asthma Research and Innovation Partnership to establish a new fund to research and develop asthma drugs, with the ultimate aim of finding a cure for asthma. Will the Minister meet me and Asthma UK to explore how the Government can support the European innovation fund?

A variety of asthma research demonstrates that many people have allergies. Of those who have asthma, 50% are more than likely to have some kind of allergy that causes an asthma attack—we call them triggers. We do not have the lung function or capability that those without asthma have, so we have to learn quickly what our triggers are and avoid them. One of my triggers is pets, so although I am 38 I have never had a pet, which is quite sad.

We would also like to see written asthma action plans. The Secretary of State for Health has made a positive commitment to ensuring that every asthmatic has a written asthma action plan, so will the Minister tell us what plans the Government have in place to achieve that commitment? Once someone has an action plan it helps to reduce the seriousness of their attacks, because they learn quickly to manage their own condition. It is a serious condition, and people have to work on improving things such as their peak flow. There are bits and pieces that doctors and asthma nurses do with asthma sufferers—we compete with ourselves to try to improve in our asthma action plan.

We believe that there should be world-class asthma reviews containing key components; that is an item that came up in the national review of asthma deaths. It could result in a nationwide improvement in asthma. A variety of organisations are ready to help develop the idea and work with the Department of Health and

NHS England to make it a reality. The national review found that many asthma reviews did not include key components—only 27% of people had their asthma control assessed, only 42% had an assessment of their medication use and only 71% had an assessment of their inhaler technique. People are using their inhalers in a variety of ways, and could be losing between 40% and 60% of the medication’s effectiveness if they are using them incorrectly, yet almost 30% of people are not being assessed on an annual basis on how they use their inhaler. That could reducing the effectiveness of their medication.

We would like the Minister to support the creation of a world-class asthma review and to encourage NHS England to get on and actually do it. We know that NHS England is working on an improvement programme for children’s asthma, and we would like him to commit to continuing to resource that project into 2015-16. We have already seen significant successes in secondary and tertiary care for children.

It would not be a debate on asthma without a call—I have to declare an interest here—for free prescriptions for those with asthma; all asthma sufferers would like that. People suffering from many other long-term conditions receive free prescriptions for their inhalers, but asthmatics do not. If asthmatics do not take their inhalers they end up in an A and E facility receiving oxygen, normally after an ambulance crew has transported them there, giving them oxygen on the way. That costs a huge amount of money.

My final point is that smoking is a contributory factor in more than a third of all respiratory deaths. The health impact of smoking on asthma sufferers is enormous, so I personally call on the Government to get on and do all they can to push forward standardised packaging for cigarettes as soon as possible.