While asthma death rates are falling in many developed countries, they appear to be rising here — now new research highlights the huge public health burden of managing the chronic disease in Ireland.
New Irish research shows that the current management of asthma is estimated to cost the State €472m in 2017 — prompting calls for a re-evaluation of the “crisis-led” approach to its treatment.
In 2017, management of the disease is estimated to have cost €1,242 per person, resulting in 133,000 visits to the emergency department and almost 8,000 hospitalisations, the study also finds.
Children and adults with asthma are being treated in emergency departments every day when they should be “getting on with their lives with minimal intrusion from what is largely a very treatable condition,” according to Marcus Butler, medical director of the Asthma Society of Ireland.
“Asthma death rates are falling in many developed countries, but alarmingly, they appear to be rising in Ireland,” Dr Butler said.
“This research contends that a national self-management programme for all asthma patients, irrespective of age, has a high likelihood of substantial cost savings, not to mention the precious safe-guarding of human life and wellbeing that underpins all of our efforts in the asthma community.”
Published by the Asthma Society of Ireland, Easing the Economic Burden of Asthma is the first impact assessment of the chronic disease since 2001.
The study estimates that the cost of hospitalisations, emergency department visits and GP consultations in 2017 related to asthma accounted for €270m, 57% of the total direct costs of treating the disease.
Indirect costs, such as absenteeism from work and premature mortality due to asthma, amounted to an additional €202m, the study also finds.
However, a universal ‘self-management’ programme could save between €68m and €102m a year.
Such a programme could also see a reduction of up to 2,035 hospitalisations, and between 24,000 to 61,000 emergency department visits a year.
“The reality of asthma for our health system and our patients is made crystal clear from this research,” said Asthma Society of Ireland chief executive Sarah O’Connor.
“We can see that, in comparison to other countries in Western Europe, Ireland has the poorest mortality outcome from asthma and one of the highest asthma hospitalisation rates.”
Uncontrolled asthma costs the individual and the State, said Ms O’Connor, adding that research shows that 60% of Irish people with asthma do not have it controlled.
“A universal asthma self-management programme can reduce both the cost factor and the fear factor in asthma management in Ireland,” she said. “We wholeheartedly advocate for it, along with a number of other important policy changes aiming to eliminate asthma deaths and transform the lives of people with asthma.”
Patients who want help managing their asthma can contact the Asthma Society of Ireland’s advice line on 1800 44 54 64 for assistance.