National asthma action plan could halve €501m bill

A national asthma programme could reduce the €501m annual cost of asthma-related illness to the State.

Launched yesterday by the Asthma Society of Ireland, it points out that more than half of the cost — €262.1m — relates to loss of productivity because of asthma-related absences.

The Case for Change calls for an initial investment of €2.5m this year to implement of the first phase of the programme. The programme is aimed at reducing pressure on hospitals; having fewer asthma-related deaths; better control of asthma symptoms; and a better quality of life for the 470,000 people affected by asthma here.

Similar models of care introduced in Finland and Australia reduced healthcare costs and improved health for people with asthma.

The society said emergency department visits as well as in-patient and day case admissions could be reduced if the HSE’s National Asthma Programme was implemented on a phased basis.

Chief executive of the Asthma Society of Ireland, Sharon Cosgrove, said only 7% of the patients who use the organisation’s asthma clinic and advice services have an asthma management plan.

More than a third (35%) attending its clinics have had an asthma attack in the last year.

Ms Cosgrove said 60% of people in Ireland have uncontrolled asthma, leaving them at risk of an attack.

“Yet, with the right treatment and education, asthma is a disease which can be managed with the patient taking a pivotal role in their own asthma control,” she said.

“We are aware of the growing financial pressures on the health system, but asthma is costing the State half a billion euro a year and this need not be the case.”

Economist and childhood asthma sufferer, David McWillliams, said the programme, that relied heavily on patients self-managing their disease, guided by health care professionals, was an excellent test case for Ireland.

Around 20,000 people attend hospital emergency departments due to asthma every year, with 5,000 admitted to hospital where the average stay is three days.

Ms Cosgrove said adults miss around 12 working days a year as a result of asthma and children miss about 10 school days.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly, who attended the launch, said he had a particular interest in asthma as a GP — he has a masters’s degree in family medicine and his thesis was on asthma.

Dr Reilly said he agreed with what the report sought to achieve — educating people with asthma about how to control the condition — and this would be very much the focus of the new GP contract.

“On a personal level, my mother had asthma, my brother had asthma and two of my sons had asthma,” he said.

Asthma in figures

* 1.4m work days lost each year because of asthma-related illnesses — €194.6m in lost earnings.

* Parents of children with asthma lose €67.5m in earnings due to absence from work.

* Production losses due to asthma estimated at €262.1m per year.

* Around one person a week dies in Ireland from asthma and 90% of the deaths are preventable.

* HSE National Asthma Programme aimed at reducing asthma deaths by 90% over 10 years.

* The country has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma in the world, with one in 10 adults and one in five children affected.

* It is the most common chronic disease in young people.


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