UK asthma death rates among worst in Europe

Experts suggest poor UK ranking could be due to patients missing out on basic asthma care, and a lack of awareness about the seriousness of asthma

The UK has one of the worst asthma death rates in Europe, with the rate of people dying from an asthma attack increasing by more than 20% in five years - according to new analysis from Asthma UK, released today for World Asthma Day.

Asthma UK’s analysis of the most recent Europe-wide figures from 2011 to 2015 found that:

  • The rate of asthma deaths in the UK has increased by more than 20% in five years, with figures from 2015 showing 1,434 people died from an asthma attack1
  • The UK’s average asthma death rate over five years is worse than countries such as Greece, Italy and the Netherlands2  - and it is almost 50% higher than the average death rate in the European Union.3
  • Of 33 countries in Europe, only Serbia, Turkey, Estonia, Spain and Cyprus, had worse asthma death rates than the UK from 2011 to 20154
  • Like the UK, Spain and France have both seen an increase in asthma death rates5
  • Countries including Croatia, Bulgaria, Finland and Austria saw a decline in asthma death rates, with Germany leading the way with an 11% drop from 2011 – 20156

Experts at Asthma UK say that the UK’s poor death rate for asthma attacks may be because the condition is not taken seriously enough, with previous research from the charity revealing that 1 in 6 people in the UK do not know or unsure if the condition can be fatal.7

Asthma UK suggests the lack of basic care patients are getting in the UK could also be a contributing factor. Almost two thirds (65%) of people with asthma are not receiving the basic care from healthcare professionals that they are entitled to, which includes a yearly review, a check to ensure they are using their inhaler properly and a written asthma action plan.8

Asthma UK says this lack of basic care is‘extremely worrying’ as the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed two thirds of asthma deaths could have been prevented with basic asthma care.9

The charity is calling for everyone to play their part this World Asthma Day to combat the illness, which leaves people gasping for breath and can affect people’s health, relationships and work.

It is urging the NHS to invest in better asthma frontline services – including better tests to diagnose people and access to new treatments for severe asthma – and for the Government to invest in research for an asthma cure.

It is also calling for healthcare professionals to follow asthma guidelines, and for those with asthma to get in touch if they need health advice.

Cathy Worboys, 49, a personal assistant from Ware in Hertfordshire, is calling for more research into asthma this World Asthma Day, after her daughter Holly, 19, died from an asthma attack in January 2016. She says: 

“Holly was a loving, supportive daughter and sister, and full of life. Her death has left a gaping hole in our lives. 

“Holly had asthma from a young age but it was mild, so it was a huge shock when she appeared at my bedroom door after a night out saying she couldn’t breathe.

“She went into the garden to try and catch her breath while I got her inhaler. By the time I got outside, she was unconscious. I called an ambulance and our neighbour began CPR, then she was rushed to hospital. When doctors said Holly had died we were completely and utterly heartbroken. 

“People don’t realise asthma can kill so this World Asthma Day, I want people to take it seriously and make sure they use their inhalers. But I also want more research into a cure for this horrible illness, that took away my beautiful daughter.”

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says:

“It is truly shocking that so many people in the UK are dying from asthma attacks and while other countries are improving, we are lagging behind.

“While we don’t know for sure why the UK is performing so poorly in preventing deaths from asthma, we think a lack of understanding could play a part.

“Asthma kills and we are urging the NHS to invest in better frontline asthma services, for people with asthma to make sure they take their medication properly, and for healthcare professionals to take asthma seriously, diagnose asthma patients effectively and treat them promptly.

“This World Asthma Day we’re also calling for funding into more research to find a cure for asthma, so we can stamp out this vicious and unpredictable illness that claims lives.”

Asthma UK funds research projects into ways to help prevent, manage or cure asthma, and provides advice and guidance to people with asthma through its nurse-staffed telephone helpline and its website.

To find out how you can manage your asthma and stay safe this World Asthma Day, visit www.asthma.org.uk/manage

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For further information, please contact:

The media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk or call 0207 786 4949. For out of hours enquiries contact: 07951 721393

Notes to Editors: 

To calculate asthma death rates for each country, we looked at the number of deaths for each country and the population of each country to work out a rate of deaths per 100,000. This is because countries are of different population sizes, so the raw numbers wouldn’t be reflective of the true situation.

The data sets are from 2011 – 2015 as these are the most recent data sets for all the countries, to allow accurate comparison.

Death numbers: Eurostat – Table name: ‘Causes of death - deaths by country of residence and occurrence’

Population data: Eurostat – Table name: ‘Population on 1 January by age and sex’

Prevalence data: ERS Whitebook – Adult chapter; Children chapter

You can find the data tables at this link: 

1. The rate of asthma deaths per 100,000 in 2011 in the UK was 1.83 and in 2015 was 2.21, a 21% increase.

2. The UK average death rate was 1.98. Greece was 0.15, Italy was 0.67 and the Netherlands was 0.56

3. The average UK death rate was 1.98. The EU average death rate is 1.32

4. See table

5. Spain’s death rate has increased from 2.04 to 2.44. France’s death rate has increased from 1.34 to 1.35

6. Germany’s death rate in 2011 was 1.47 and in 2015 was 1.30 (a 12% drop)

7. Charity Awareness Monitor, January 2017, 1,000 adults in Britain aged 16+. Which, if of any, of the following statements do you think is true about asthma? Asthma attacks can be fatal. 16% said no or not sure.

8.Falling Through the Gaps: Why more people need basic asthma careincluded a survey of 7,611 people with asthma across the UK. To estimate the number of people with asthma in the UK who are not getting basic care, we applied the proportion of people in the survey who said they did not get basic care (65%) and applied it to the UK asthma population 5.4million which is 3,510,000

9. Royal College of Physicians, Why Asthma Still Kills: The National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD), May 2014, https://www.asthma.org.uk/globalassets/campaigns/nrad-full-report.pdf

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