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How to make sure you’re working as a team with the NHS to stay well with your asthma

Building a good relationship with your NHS healthcare team can help you manage your asthma well. You know your asthma better than anyone but healthcare professionals have the up to date knowledge and expertise about how to treat it. 

Find out what support you can get for your asthma from the NHS, what part you can play in making sure you’re getting good asthma care, what other kinds of support you might be referred to, and what to do if you’re not happy with your asthma care.

Registering with your GP

It’s quick and easy to register with your local GP practice. Make sure you start with the surgery nearest to where you live or you might be turned away for being out of the area.

Once you’ve registered:

  • Make a note of opening hours – does the surgery open at weekends or in the evenings for example? Some practices have extended hours to give more options for people who need to make evening or weekend appointments. If you get asthma symptoms you’ll want to know what your options are for getting an appointment quickly
  • Is there an asthma nurse at the practice or will you see a practice nurse who has experience with patients with asthma?
  • Will you be able to see the same GP or asthma nurse so they can get to know you and about your asthma?
  • Does your GP practice offer telephone consultations and home visits?
  • Remember to take note of any out-of-hours services.
  • Keep your GP telephone number and the out-of-hours number somewhere handy.

How you and the NHS work can work together

There are lots of simple ways you and your healthcare team can work together to keep on top of asthma symptoms. You might have heard of the phrase used by healthcare professionals and experts that sums this up: ‘working in partnership’. Evidence shows that this sort of approach means you’ll get the best support and treatment for your asthma. For example, while you rely on your GP to prescribe the right asthma medicines to help you, it’s up to you to take them as prescribed, and to tell your GP about symptoms, triggers and side effects. Here we show you what you should expect from the NHS and how you can help.

Help the NHS give you the right diagnosis

It’s the job of the NHS (usually your GP) to make sure you get the right diagnosis, as quickly as possible. Sometimes getting an asthma diagnosis can take time – you might need a trial of treatment or referral for more tests. Your GP should check that your asthma’s not work-related (occupational asthma) and if it is talk to you about changes you or your employer can make. If you are diagnosed with asthma then you can get advice the different treatments and inhalers available, and how to use them in the best way.

You can play your part by:

  • sticking to your trial of treatment, and letting your GP know how your asthma’s been - try keeping a symptom diary to show them at your next appointment
  • attending any appointments you’ve been referred for so you can keep the diagnosis process moving. If you have trouble remembering to keep appointments, ask for a text, email or phone call reminder nearer the time.

Make the most of your asthma review

An asthma review at least once a year is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) as one of the asthma care quality standards. A review is a great way to check in with your asthma, talk about any triggers or symptoms and update your written asthma action plan. Our 2016 Annual Asthma Survey tells us that most people (78 per cent) do attend an annual asthma review.

How to benefit from a regular asthma review:

A small amount of time reviewing your asthma care could save you more time in the long run, by preventing asthma symptoms and avoiding a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Perhaps you don’t think you need an asthma review, or it’s hard to find time to go to the GP surgery. Find a way to do it that suits you and your GP. If your asthma’s mild ask if you can have a phone consultation instead - it’s far better to have a review by phone than no review at all.

You’ll get the most out of your appointment if you prepare before you go and take along what you need.

Deal with asthma symptoms when they get worse

It’s the NHS’s job to make sure symptoms are dealt with quickly quickly – and you can help them do that by reporting your symptoms to your GP. To find out if your asthma is getting worse your GP or asthma nurse will ask you some questions to get an idea of how your asthma’s been. They might use a breathing test, such as a peak flow test or a spirometry test, to help them decide the best course of treatment for you. You should be given a written asthma action plan so it’s easier to spot asthma symptoms and to know what you need to do about them.

The NHS will try and get to the bottom of why you’re having difficult symptoms and finding it hard to manage your asthma. This will involve you working well with your GP, and being open and honest about symptoms and how you manage them. If things don’t improve your GP might refer you to an asthma specialist who will talk to you about different tests and treatment options.

You can help by:

  • sticking to your ‘trial of treatment’ if you’re given one to help find out if it’s the best one for you
  • attending appointments – even if you have lots of different appointments, go to them all so you have the best chance of sorting out your asthma symptoms.
  • being honest about your lifestyle, such as smoking or forgetting to take your medicines. This helps your healthcare team get an honest picture of what’s going on and what could be making managing your asthma more difficult.
  • keeping a peak flow diary together with a log of your symptoms and taking this with you to all your asthma appointments. And if you’re worried you won’t have symptoms once you get to your appointment you could try asking someone to film you when you’ve got them so you can show your GP or asthma nurse exactly what you were experiencing without trying to explain it in words. 
  • being honest and up front about the things that trigger your asthma symptoms. For example, tell your GP or asthma nurse if you smoke.

Treat an asthma attack quickly

The NHS is there to make sure you get quick, life-saving treatment when you have an asthma attack. You should expect to be put on a nebuliser and given steroids either as tablets or an injection (prednisolone is available in soluble form for children) within an hour of you presenting yourself with asthma attack symptoms.

It’s also the job of the NHS to make sure your asthma attack is followed up and that you have an appointment with your own GP within two days of going to A&E with an asthma attack – or, if you’ve been kept in hospital, within two days of you being discharged. You can expect to be given a clear, written plan of action to make sure you get well, and stay well, and aren’t at risk of further attacks.

  • Check that you’ve been given a written asthma action plan and a follow up appointment so you can talk through what happened with your own GP or asthma nurse, and look at ways to avoid it happening again.
  • If an appointment hasn’t been made for you make sure you book one yourself. With the support of your GP and a written asthma action plan, you can play your part in avoiding repeat attacks.
  • Get to know what your own asthma ‘alarm bells’ might be – whether it’s coughing at night, or struggling with every day things like climbing stairs. Look out for your child’s warning symptoms too.
  • Keep your written asthma action plan handy so you can remind yourself what to do when symptoms get worse, and make sure you, and those close to you, know what quick, life-saving steps need to be taken if you have an attack. Knowing what the signs are will help you understand when you need to make an urgent same day appointment with your GP or call an ambulance.
  • If you do have to go to A&E or to an out of hours service, make sure you have your written asthma action plan with you. As long as your plan is up to date it will tell the emergency staff and hospital doctors what they need to know – and you won’t have to struggle to tell them about your asthma.

Make the most of other NHS services on offer

Last updated September 2016

Next review due September 2019