Asthma Outcomes — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 7th December 2021.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health) 10:19 am, 7th December 2021

Absolutely, and the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. While the choice in Scotland has been to abolish prescription charges, I note that she did not suggest that to the Minister. However, she did suggest—perhaps because we know that asthma often starts in childhood and is not something that people have much control over—that an exemption could be applied. Following that recommendation from the hon. Lady, I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on the matter.

Cost itself should not mean that someone cannot access healthcare, and in a developed country such as the United Kingdom, there should be no prohibition owing to charges and costs, particularly for something for which people often need daily medication. We have heard from Asthma UK that that is happening—people are skipping doses and many are struggling to pay for their prescriptions in England.

In 2021, the Scottish Government published their respiratory care plan, which is a care plan covering 2021 to 2026. It includes a workstream specifically on asthma, and I am pleased that that is being taken forward at that level. We know that asthma attacks across the UK, including Scotland, have increased by a third over the last decade, and the number of people affected in the UK is among the highest in the world, with about 5.4 million receiving treatment for asthma. That is equivalent to one adult in every 12, and one child in every 11, so we know that asthma is widespread and that it needs to be a priority for Government action.

Asthma affects people of all ages, as we have heard, and often starts in childhood. I must declare that I have been diagnosed with asthma and have had asthma since childhood. I say to the Minister that there is absolutely nothing worse than the feeling of struggling for breath. I have found wearing a mask difficult at times, but I have continued to do so, and there are exemptions for people with severe health conditions. However, asthma comes upon people suddenly and can leave them with a feeling of such a lack of control, so it is important to have specialist advice from the nursing staff, which the hon. Member for Strangford spoke of.

I do not believe that I received such advice when I was younger; I think I was given an inhaler, told to go off home to practice and learn to use it myself. I wonder whether the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised—people overusing their inhaler medication—is down to there not being enough early intervention and education on how to use an inhaler properly.

I say to the Minister that although the recommendations have been raised on the Floor of this debating Chamber, we need meaningful data. We need to know about overuse, and the rationales and reasons for that overuse. Do people need more education and intervention from clinical nursing staff in the community hubs? Does the cost mean that people in poverty struggle to access treatment, and is that contributing to the death toll? That data is crucial.

As has also been widely mentioned, Asthma UK has indicated that NICE should develop comprehensive guidance on severe asthma. Can we also make sure that the newer treatment options—the biologic treatments—are widely available to everyone who needs them?

I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which has been an extremely positive one. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Strangford, because this issue is so important to so many people in the United Kingdom, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.