Worried about medication errors?

If you are concerned by stories about misdiagnosed asthma medication, please read this.

These simple steps will help you and your children to be sure you are using the right medicines in the right way to safely manage your asthma.

What you need to do:

  1. Don't worry - remember you're not immediately at risk. So keep taking your medicines as prescribed while you wait for your GP appointment. Not taking your asthma medicines will put you or your child at risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
  2. Use our picture gallery to check if you're using a long-acting reliever inhaler which has Salmeterol, Formoterol or Tiotropium Bromide as the only active ingredient. If you are and you're using it on its own (without regularly using a preventer too), go and see your GP urgently to review your asthma medicines.
  3. Ask yourself if you've been picking up more than 12 short-acting reliever inhalers in a year. Using your short-acting reliever inhaler (usually blue) more than three times a week is a sign that your asthma is not well controlled - go and see your GP or asthma nurse.
  4. Don't go to A&E - you're not in any immediate danger and this is something your GP needs to help you with.
  5. For more advice, call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am 5pm; Mon Fri).

Not sure if these issues affect you or your child?

Don't stop taking the asthma medicines you've been prescribed - this could put you or your child at risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Find out what you need to do next by answering our short quiz.

Want more details about the stories behind the headlines?

Asthma UK's latest findings have revealed that thousands of people with asthma could be at an increased risk of an asthma attack due to poor prescribing practice. One year ago, the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) highlighted prescribing errors in nearly half of asthma deaths in primary care (47%), but action still hasn't been taken to stop these errors happening. For anyone with asthma, or the parent of a child with asthma, the two key messages are:

1. Anyone using a long-acting reliever inhaler (also known as either a LAMA or LABA inhaler) must use it alongside a preventer inhaler. Using a long-acting reliever inhaler on its own is dangerous - it relaxes the airways to help you breathe more easily but it doesn't treat the inflammation, so your lungs will still be sensitive to asthma triggers, such as pollen or pollution. Using a long-acting reliever inhaler alongside a preventer inhaler, or in a combination inhaler where a steroid preventer is included in the same device, is safe and effective. The long-acting reliever and the preventer work together to help you breathe more easily and reduce your airway sensitivity to triggers. If you're using a long-acting reliever inhaler on its own, talk to your GP urgently.

More information about long-acting reliever inhalers.

2. Anyone who's picking up more than 12 short-acting reliever inhaler (usually blue) prescriptions in one year (or using their reliever inhaler more than three times a week) needs to talk to their GP or asthma nurse. If you're using this much reliever inhaler, your asthma is not well controlled. This puts you at a higher risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

More information about short-acting reliever inhalers

Take our short quiz to find out what steps you need to take...

Worried about using your long-acting reliever inhaler? Here's how to make the most of your GP appointment:

What to take with you:ŸŸŸ

  • all your inhalers, spacers and any other medicines you're taking (for your asthma and any other conditions you have)
  • a list of questions you'd like to ask and problems you'd like to talk about
  • your written asthma action plan - if you haven't got one, download it here and you can fill it out together with your GP or asthma nurse
  • a friend, especially if you're feeling really worried
  • a reminder to yourself to be open and honest with your GP or asthma nurse about any concerns or problems you're having.

Questions you might like to ask:

  • Am I using a long-acting reliever inhaler?
  • Why have I been prescribed a long-acting reliever inhaler?
  • How does a long-acting reliever inhaler work to help my asthma?
  • Am I using my long-acting reliever inhaler in the safe way (alongside a preventer inhaler)?
  • Can we run through all my asthma medicines to check that I'm using them correctly?
  • Can you check my inhaler technique(s)? (Remember that different inhalers might need different techniques.)
  • I'm struggling to remember to take all my medicines every day - is that a problem? Is there a way to make it easier?
  • I worry about taking so many different medicines. Can you reassure me that I'm on the right combination?

Don't be afraid to ask again:

Your GP or asthma nurse will want to make sure you're clear on everything, so never be afraid to double-check anything you don't understand. You could say something like: "I'm not quite sure I heard what you said about X. Would you mind going over it again?" If you're still in doubt, call our Helpline to talk to our asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (9am 5pm; Mon Fri).

Worried that you're using your reliever inhaler (usually blue) more than three times a week? Or that you're collecting more than 12 reliever prescriptions a year? Here's how to make the most of your GP appointment:

What to take with you:

  • all your inhalers, spacers and any other medicines you're taking (for your asthma and any other conditions you have)
  • a list of questions you'd like to ask and problems you'd like to talk about
  • your written asthma action plan - if you haven't got one, download it here and you can fill it out together with your GP or asthma nurse
  • a friend, especially if you're feeling worried
  • a reminder to yourself to be open and honest with your GP or asthma nurse about any concerns you're having.

Questions you might like to ask:

  • How many prescriptions have I collected for my reliever inhaler in the past year?
  • Am I collecting too many prescriptions for my reliever inhaler?
  • If I've collected too many reliever inhaler prescriptions, can we work out how much medicine I'm using? (You may have collected inhalers, especially if you've got a repeat prescription, but lost them or kept them as spares in the car, or at school or work).
  • Am I using my reliever inhaler too often?
  • Why isn't it a good idea to use my reliever inhaler too often?
  • How does my reliever inhaler work?
  • When I do need to use my reliever inhaler?
  • How can I use my reliever inhaler less often?
  • Can we run through all my asthma medicines to check that I'm using them correctly?
  • Can you check my inhaler technique(s)? (Remember that different inhalers might need different techniques)
  • I'm struggling to remember to take all my medicines every day - is that a problem? Is there a way to make it easier?
  • I worry about taking so many different medicines. Can you reassure me that I'm on the right ones?

Don't be afraid to ask again:

Your GP or asthma nurse will want to make sure you're clear on everything, so never be afraid to double-check anything you don't understand. You could say something like: "I'm not quite sure I heard what you said about X. Would you mind going over it again?" If you're still in doubt, call our Helpline to talk to our asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri).

Healthcare Professionals:

If you're a healthcare professional looking for advice on how to improve patient safety in relation to this, we have a dedicated page for Healthcare Professionals with advice for both individuals and organisations.

The full report:

Download the full copy of Asthma UK's new report, Patient safety failures in asthma care: the scale of unsafe prescribing in the UK.

Last updated August 2015