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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 may 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 may be turned away for being out of the area.

Before you register, find out:

  • How the appointments are set up: how do you access urgent and routine appointments, are there appointments outside normal office hours (evenings and weekends), are there telephone appointments? And ask how you would access them – every practice will be slightly different though many are moving to online booking systems and apps. Check out the practice website and visit the NHS’s Find GP services page for more information.
  • Whether there’s an asthma nurse at the practice or will you be seen by a GP, or a practice nurse who has experience working with patients with asthma? If there are any problems with your asthma, would you be able to contact the asthma nurse or GP directly and how quickly should you expect a  response?
  • Whether you’ll be able to see the same GP or asthma nurse so they can get to know you and your asthma.
  • Whether your GP practice offers telephone consultations.

Once you’ve registered

  • Keep your GP’s telephone number and the out-of-hours number somewhere handy, along with a note of any out-of-hours services.

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 your asthma symptoms.

Evidence shows that working in partnership with your GP 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; as well as discussing your symptoms, triggers and medical history with your GP, you might be referred to a hospital, or another clinic, for further tests.

You may need a combination of tests, including spirometry, fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNo) and peak flow testing. This is because no one test can work well enough on its own.

If you’re diagnosed with asthma then you can get advice about the different treatments and inhalers available, and how to use them in the best way.

You can play your part by:

  • Talking openly to your GP about your medical and family history, and what sets off your symptoms. Talk about your workplace too, so your GP can check if your asthma’s work-related.
  • Going to any appointments to get the tests you need to confirm or rule out asthma. If you have trouble remembering to keep appointments, ask for a text, email or phone call reminder nearer the time.
  • Taking any medicines as prescribed, and letting your GP know if they’ve made a difference – try keeping a symptom diary to take to your next appointment.

Make the most of your asthma review

An asthma review at least once a year is key to help you stay well. 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.

It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as part of the asthma care quality standards.

A review is a great way to talk about any triggers or symptoms, update your written asthma action plan and check your inhaler technique.  

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 asthma symptoms are dealt with quickly – and you can help it 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 may 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 to get to the bottom of why you’re having difficult symptoms or 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.

You may need different asthma treatments. You’ll usually get another appointment with your GP or asthma nurse, either in the surgery or over the phone, four to eight weeks later to check the new medicines are working for you.

If things don’t improve your GP may refer you to an asthma specialist who will talk to you about different tests and treatment options.

You can help by:

  • asking someone to film you when you’re having symptoms if you’re worried you won’t have them once you get to your appointment. This way you can show your GP or asthma nurse exactly what you were experiencing without trying to explain it in words (but do not delay taking your reliever medication to do this!). 
  • taking any new treatments as prescribed.
  • attending your follow-up appointment four to eight weeks later so you can talk to your GP about how you’re getting on with the new medicines.
  • going to your appointments. Even if you have lots of different ones, 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 a clear 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.

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 (a machine that delivers asthma medicine as a fine mist) and given steroids either as tablets or an injection (prednisolone is available in liquid 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, so book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse (even if you feel well) within two working days of going to A&E with an asthma attack or being discharged from hospital. And if you managed an asthma attack at home, see your GP the same day.

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.

Help yourself stay well by:

  • Making sure 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.
  • Getting to know what your own asthma ‘alarm bells’ may be – whether it’s coughing at night, or struggling with everyday things such as climbing stairs. Look out for your child’s warning symptoms, too.
  • Keeping your 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 asthma attack. 
  • Taking your asthma action plan with you if you have to go to A&E or to an out-of-hours service. 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 August 2019

Next review due August2022