Asthma death toll in England and Wales is the highest this decade

New data shows asthma deaths have increased by a third in the last decade as Asthma UK calls on the NHS to urgently tackle issues with basic asthma care

Friday 9 August 2019

Deaths from asthma attacks are the highest they have been in the last decade and have increased by more than 33% over the last ten years1, according to Asthma UK’s analysis of data from The Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

Asthma UK is now is calling on the NHS to take urgent action including addressing the lack of basic asthma care.

More than 1,400 people died from an asthma attack last year, an 8% increase2 compared to 2017.

 The findings reveal an increase in men dying from asthma attacks3, and there has been a 42% increase in deaths amongst people aged 35 – 44 in the last year4.

 There has been a 25% increase in asthma deaths in the South-East, and London has seen a 17% increase from 2017 to 20185.

 Asthma UK says a lack of basic asthma care may have contributed to the rise as 60% of people with asthma in England and Wales6 - an estimated 2.9 million people7 - are not receiving basic care as recommended by national guidelines.8

 The National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD), commissioned by the NHS and Department of Health five years ago, found that two-thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented by better basic care9.Of the 19 recommendations made by NRAD, only one has been partially implemented10.

 Asthma UK’s analysis also revealed that:

  •  More than 12,700 people have died from asthma in England and Walesin the last decade11
  • There has been a 17% increase in the “age-standardised” asthma death rate over the last six years12.

Basic care, which every asthma patient is entitled to, should include a yearly review with a GP or asthma nurse, a written asthma action plan which explains how people with asthma can stay well and an inhaler technique check.

Whilst child asthma deaths are rare, in recent years there have been tragic cases of children who have died because they have failed to get the basic care they needed. For example, Michael Uriely (9) died in August 2015, after being hospitalised 11 times in seven months with his asthma. Sophie Holman (10) died in December 2017 after being seen by the NHS for her asthma 48 times in her lifetime and endured at least 10 life-threatening asthma attacks. In both cases, the Coroner identified that the children did not have a written asthma action plan – a core element of basic care – and this, along with a lack of joined up care, contributed to their deaths13.

Nicki Davis, 49, a mum from Wimblington, Cambridgeshire lost her eight-year-old son Bailey, a twin, to a fatal asthma attack in March 2017 and is now campaigning to raise awareness of the seriousness of asthma. She says:

“Bailey was such a kind, loving son and was inseparable from his twin brother, Mason. His asthma was mild, and it didn’t get in the way of him doing the things that he loved but in March 2017, after a day at school, everything changed.

“He came into my room and said: ‘Mummy, I can’t breathe properly.’ I helped him take a couple of puffs of his reliever inhaler but suddenly, like a flick of a light switch, he collapsed. I screamed for help whilst trying to do CPR and my friend heard and rushed to help, then called the emergency services. The paramedics were working on him for over an hour, but they couldn’t revive him in hospital. Bailey died in front of me, at just eight years old.

“No-one should have to go through what we have. It’s appalling that in this day and age people are still dying from asthma. How many more lives have to be cut short before people realise how serious asthma can be? Everyone with asthma should get basic asthma care to keep them well. It could save lives.”

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: 

“It is completely unacceptable that thousands of people with asthma in England and Wales have died needlessly from asthma attacks.

“It’s been five years since the National Review of Asthma Deaths found that two-thirds of deaths from asthma attacks could have been prevented with basic care, yet we are still seeing tragic cases of lives being cut short.

“The same mistakes are being made again and again because essential recommendations have not been implemented. This lack of action is costing lives and devastating families and communities.

“The NHS must act now to ensure that everyone with asthma in England and Wales gets basic asthma care which includes a yearly review with their GP or asthma nurse, a check to ensure they are using their inhaler properly and a written asthma action plan. The NHS needs to ensure that all healthcare professionals are providing this care to patients.”

Around 4.8 million people in England and Wales have asthma.14 Asthma UK helps to support people with asthma through its website, WhatsApp service and nurse helpline.

 To find out more about basic asthma care visit: www.asthma.org.uk/basic-care

 -        ENDS -

Notes to editors:

1. Asthma UK analysed asthma deaths data from the Office for National Statistics, Deaths registered in England and Wales 2018. Data was extracted via Nomis. Asthma deaths increased 32.7% from 2008-2018.  

 2. Asthma UK analysed asthma deaths data from the Office for National Statistics, Deaths registered in England and Wales 2018. Data was extracted via Nomis. Asthma deaths in England and Wales were recorded at 1,320 in 2017 and 1,422 in 2018 giving us an increase of 7.7%.

3. Asthma UK analysed asthma deaths data from the Office for National Statistics, Deaths registered in England and Wales 2018.  Data was extracted via Nomis. 370 men died from asthma in 2017 and 436 in 2018 (17.8%) and 950 women died from asthma in 2017 and 986 (3.8%)

 4. Ibid

 5. Ibid

6. The reality of asthma care, Asthma UK 2018, pp16-20.

7. Prevalence estimate via Health Survey for England 2001 and Welsh Health Survey 2005/06. Percentage not receiving basic care applied to the prevalence figure.

 8. Royal College of Physicians, The National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD): Why Asthma Still Kills. NRAD was commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) on behalf of NHS England, NHS Wales, the Health and Social Care division of the Scottish government, the Department of Health, and the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

 9. Ibid

10. Asthma UK analysed asthma deaths data from the Office for National Statistics, Deaths registered in England and Wales 2018. Data was extracted via Nomis

11. Ibid. This is age-standardized mortality rate which takes into account population changes, such as ageing.

12. Dr Shirley Radcliffe, Assistant Coroner for the area of, East Area of Greater London, (2019), Regulation 28: Report to prevent future deaths p3

13. Prevalence estimate via Health Survey for England 2001 and Welsh Health Survey 2005/06.

14.  Dr Mark Levy, Clinical Lead NRAD, Conflicting asthma guidelines cause confusion in primary care, BMJ, 2018: https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k29/rr