Meet your asthma healthcare team

No matter what questions you have about your asthma, you’ve got a team behind you that can help

Your healthcare team is made up of professionals who are based both in the community and in hospitals. The exact makeup of the team will vary depending on your age, where you live, and the details of your asthma, but will include a range of professionals such as GPs, asthma nurses, pharmacists and specialists.

There’s a lot of research that shows that if you know who to ask when you have a question, you’ll feel more confident about managing your asthma in between appointments.

Most people with asthma usually only see their GP or asthma nurse, but if you’re caring for a child with asthma, or if your symptoms are more unpredictable and harder to manage, you may benefit from extra help from different healthcare professionals who have other areas of knowledge.

Healthcare professionals who can help you with your asthma

Everyday asthma support

GP (General Practitioner)

Who are they and what do they do?

GPs – often referred to as ‘family doctors’ – are health professionals who are trained in all aspects of general medicine. They offer a range of support, from helping you manage your overall health and wellbeing to diagnosing and treating illnesses, offering advice and general support, and helping to manage any lifelong conditions such as asthma. Some GPs also perform minor surgery. GPs in the UK must have a licence to practice from the General Medical Council, which oversees the profession.

When should you see them?

Your GP is your main contact for day-to-day asthma care. They will make the diagnosis of asthma, prescribe the medicines you need, and show you how to take them. They can also help you write or update your written asthma action plan, refer you for help to stop smoking, and advise you how to manage your asthma if it gets worse.

Your GP will also consider whether you need a referral to specialist asthma clinics to help you manage more difficult asthma. You should see your GP (or asthma nurse) at least once a year for your annual asthma review (every six months for children), even if you’re feeling well. People with severe asthma should have their asthma reviewed more often.

GPs usually work as part of a wider team that may include nurse practitioners, asthma nurse specialists, practice managers (responsible for how the whole practice runs) and GP receptionists, who book appointments.   

How to access them

Most GP surgeries allow you to make an appointment face to face or over the phone, though some also run drop-in clinics. It can be a good idea to speak with your GP receptionist to find out your surgery’s hours and the best and quickest ways to get GP support when you need it.

Asthma nurse, asthma nurse specialist or practice nurse

Who are they and what do they do?

Some GP surgeries have a dedicated asthma nurse who has had specialist training in the treatment and management of asthma.

In some surgeries where there is no dedicated asthma nurse, the practice nurse may see people with asthma instead.

When should you see them?

Your asthma nurse can help support you so you can look after your asthma better, make sure you’re taking the right medicine, show you how to use your asthma inhaler and go through your written asthma action plan with you. They will often also carry out your regular asthma review with you.

How to access them

Ask your GP or GP receptionist about what asthma nurse support is available to you and how best to access it.

"I stumbled across an asthma nurse who was a real God-send. The first time she showed me how to use the inhaler properly, I felt like I had full chest of air. She also told me that I was shallow breathing and showed me how to breathe properly (not just through my mouth)." Joanne Bennell, aged 36, diagnosed with severe asthma aged 31 in 2011.

Pharmacist

Who are they and what do they do?

Pharmacists are university-educated medical professionals trained in all aspects of medicines and how to use them. In the UK, all pharmacists must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council, which is the regulatory body that oversees pharmacy.

When should you see them?

You will probably most often see your pharmacist to fill prescriptions when you need new medicines or inhalers. However pharmacists offer a range of other services too, from information on how medicines work and medicines reviews to peak flow checks and smoking cessation advice, among other services

How to access them

Pharmacists work in the community in independent and high street chemist shops, in supermarket pharmacies and in GP surgeries and hospitals. The good thing about using a pharmacist for advice is that you don’t need to make an appointment. If you’re not sure about an aspect of your asthma management, popping into your local pharmacy can be a good way to find out what you need to know quickly and efficiently.

School nurse

Who are they and what do they do?

A school nurse is a registered nurse who has experience and training in public and child health. A school won’t normally have a full-time nurse, but might share a nurse with a number of other local schools.

School nurses provide health promotion activities in schools, and offering weekly drop-in sessions or one-to-one appointments for students or parents to come and talk about any concerns they might have.

When should you see them?

If your child needs help with any aspect of managing their asthma at school, then the school nurse should be able to help. It can be a good idea to share your child’s written asthma action plan with the nurse and to ensure the nurse and other key members of the school’s staff know what to do in the case of an asthma attack. 

How to access them

If you’re not sure how to get in touch with your school nurse, speak with the head teacher or your child’s class teacher. 

Specialist asthma support

Respiratory specialist

Who are they and what do they do?

Respiratory specialists are healthcare professionals who focus on providing care to people with lung conditions like asthma. Respiratory specialists have completed medical training, followed by advanced training in the management of lung conditions.

When should you see them?

If you have difficult-to-manage asthma or severe asthma and have frequent asthma attacks, and the usual asthma treatments aren’t working for you, your GP may refer you to a respiratory specialist who can then make treatment recommendations, including both short- and long-term plans for the management of your asthma.

How to access them

Your doctor or asthma nurse may be able to refer you to a respiratory specialist, usually as an outpatient at your local hospital. If you have been hospitalised as a result of your asthma, the hospital’s respiratory specialist may be the lead doctor looking after you in hospital.

"My consultant is really supportive. If I have any problems with my asthma, I know I can just turn up and get help. They’ve changed my treatment plans and I’m finally on the right medication which is making my asthma easier to manage. My consultant also keeps my GP informed. I’ve recently had problems with my sinuses again which is flaring up my asthma, but my consultants are being really good and I am having appointments regularly to find out what’s going on." Celena Dell, aged 34, diagnosed with severe asthma aged 32.

Respiratory physiologist

Who are they and what do they do?

Respiratory physiologists use special medical equipment to test and measure your breathing. Respiratory physiologists can also, if required, carry out skin-prick tests, blood tests, exercise tests and a ‘fit to fly assessment' if your GP or asthma nurse thinks your asthma is likely to get worse when you're travelling by air.

When should you see them?

You will usually see a respiratory physiologist if your specialist needs more information or evidence to help diagnose your asthma or to recommend a treatment. 

How to access them

If you’re under a respiratory specialist at a hospital, you’ll usually be asked to see a respiratory physiologist at the lung function laboratory when you go in for your appointment. Your doctor or asthma nurse may also refer you.

Respiratory physiotherapist

Who are they and what do they do?

Respiratory physiotherapists are physiotherapists who specialise in helping to treat a wide range of respiratory conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They are based in private community practice as well as in hospitals and occupational health clinics.

When should you see them?

Physical activity and exercise can be helpful in managing asthma. Physiotherapists can advise you on how to become more active and recommend ideal types of exercise for you.

You or your child may also be referred to a respiratory physiotherapist for advice on breathing in a more relaxed way or to retrain your breathing, as well as for advice how to manage symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and excess mucus.

How to access them

Your doctor or asthma nurse may be able to refer you or your child to a respiratory physiotherapist in your area.

Paediatric asthma nurses

Who are they and what do they do?

Healthcare professionals trained in paediatric respiratory medicine specialise in helping children who have breathing conditions or problems with their lungs.

Some areas have nurses who specialise in supporting children with a range of conditions, including asthma. Their skills, knowledge and expertise are particularly geared towards helping children and their families from childhood through to young adulthood when they move into adult services.

When should you see them?

Nurses specialising in children’s services can help if your child needs extra education or support to help manage their asthma.

How to access them

Your GP, asthma/practice nurse, school nurse, hospital consultant or A&E nurse may refer you to a paediatric asthma nurse or paediatric asthma specialist.

Clinical psychologist

Who are they and what do they do?

Psychologists are health professionals specifically trained to provide evidence-based "talking therapies". They do not prescribe medicines; they talk to you about your condition and ways that you can manage your symptoms. They work with people individually and also in groups.

When should you see them?

It can be sometimes difficult to come to terms with being diagnosed with asthma or managing its on-going challenges. Sometimes, this can cause distress, which in turn make asthma symptoms much worse. A clinical psychologist can help you if you feel upset or distressed, or if you’re finding it difficult to cope.

How do you access them?

If you or your GP feel that you need some extra emotional support, your GP can refer you to a psychologist.

Dietitian

Who are they and what do they do?

A dietitian is a health professional trained in the management of food nutrition, including food-related allergies and weight concerns.

When should you see them?

You may need to work with a dietitian if you have any food allergies that can trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Asthma symptoms can also be worse and more frequent if you are overweight. A dietitian can provide advice to help you monitor your weight and work with you to maintain a healthier weight if yours is too high.

How do you access them?

Your doctor or asthma nurse can refer you or your child to a dietitian.

NHS Stop Smoking services

Who are they and what do they do?

The NHS Stop Smoking Service is a national network of advisers who are trained to help you quit smoking.

The advisers are available to provide accurate information and advice on how to stop smoking. They can also give you professional support during the first few weeks after you have stopped.

When should you see them?

If you need advice or support to help you stop smoking, then the NHS Stop Smoking Service can help.

How do you access them?

Your GP can refer you, or you can phone your local NHS Stop Smoking Service to make an appointment with an adviser.  If there isn’t a service in your area, your pharmacist may be able to advise you instead.

In England

In Scotland

In Wales

In Northern Ireland

And not forgetting you!

The good news is that alongside your healthcare team, you have the power to make a big difference to how well you or your child feels. From taking your preventer medicines every day as prescribed to making sure you go for a regular asthma review - there are plenty of things you can do to help manage your asthma.

Working with your healthcare team

Here are our top tips to help you make the most of the expertise available in your healthcare team.

  • Be open and honest with all your doctors and nurses – this can help them to provide the best advice for your condition
  • Keep a symptom diary to record your condition and take it along to consultations. You can use it to help explain how you’ve been feeling and the impact of your asthma symptoms on daily life
  • Make sure you make it along to all your appointments – this is the best way to keep in touch with your healthcare team
  • Take a friend or family member along to consultations if it helps your confidence or if you need support
  • Make a list of questions you would like to ask or topics you’d like to cover, and tick the list off during the consultation to make sure you don’t miss anything. You can also write notes against each question so you remember the answers later
  • Take all your asthma medicines as prescribed, and be sure to ask for help if you’re not sure how to use your inhalers correctly.

 

Last updated September 2016