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Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment has been made of numbers of people suffering from asthma in each year since 1997; what the average age of diagnosis was; and if he will make a statement; [110030](2) what assessment has been made of the causes of asthma; and what proposals he has to address them and raise awareness; [110031](3) what measures are in place to ensure that asthma sufferers have access to a local health professional with specific asthma training; [110032](4) what specialist services are available for those suffering from severe asthma; and what charges are placed on medication and treatment; [110034](5) what proposals he has to

(a) speed up diagnosis and treatment of asthma and (b) have an asthma plan in place. [110033]

Patients with asthma are able to access the full range of National Health Service support services in both primary and secondary care settings. Inhalers contain drugs to relieve the symptoms, though people who suffer particularly severe attacks may also use 'preventers' to reduce reactions in advance.People including those suffering from asthma are entitled to free prescriptions if they are aged under 16, or under 19 and in full time education, or aged 60 or over, or they (or their partner) are receiving income support, income based jobseeker's allowance or are named on a NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate. They may also claim help under the NHS low income scheme.Information is not centrally available concerning numbers of asthma sufferers since 1997, however hospital episode statistics data shows that there were the following admissions to hospital between 1997–2002.

People with asthma will benefit from the emerging expert patients programme which will via the NHS—provide training in self-management skills for people with long term chronic conditions. We have now commenced on a fourth wave pilot phase for the remaining selected primary care trusts (PCTs), with activity taking place on a generic basis. The previous pilots have been well received by the course participants. It is the role of health authorities, in partnership with PCTs, to decide what services to provide for their populations including those with asthma. They are best placed to understand local health needs and commission services to meet them. We have welcomed guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) on inhalers for children under five in September 2000 and for older children, aged five to 15, on April 11 2002. The NICE recommendations provide clear evidence based on guidance on the most suitable inhalers for children.The Government considers the provision of first class health services for asthma sufferers as very important and is involved in a broad spectrum of research and development work into the disease. The principal body providing Government funding in the scientific area is the Medical Research Council (MRC). The MRC receives its grant-in-aid from the Department of Trade and Industry and it spends around 2 million a year on asthma research. In addition to this, a major joint initiative is being funded by the Department of Health, the Department for the Environment, Transport and Regions and the MRC into air pollution and respiratory disease.A new general medical services contract agreement was launched on Friday 21 February 2003, which, if accepted by the profession, will lead to an unprecedented level of new investment in general practice to deliver a wider range of high quality services with better clinical outcomes for all patients.The Department of Health and the Royal College of General Practitioners, under the supervision of a national development group of key stakeholders, have produced a framework for implementing a scheme for GPs with special interests and clinical guidelines for GPs with special interests in specific specialities, including respiratory medicine. Whilst this document focuses on GPs with special interests, it is recognised that specialist nurses already play a major role in the management of respiratory conditions, and much of the GP role could equally apply to an appropriately qualified specialist nurse. It is likely that the core activities of a GP with special interests will vary according to local need and resources, but are likely to focus on asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease.The national service framework (NSF) for children is being developed to set standards for the care of children and young people to ensure all children and young people have access to good quality care. Whilst it is not the intention to look at specific conditions in the NSF, it has been agreed that asthma, as one of the most common childhood conditions, should be used as one of the exemplars which will accompany the main NSF report. These will illustrate how the standards should be applied to ensure that services delivered to children are effective and meet their needs.The NSF for older people has made a commitment to develop a service model on respiratory diseases in older people within the ten-year framework. The development of this service model under the NSF for older people will apply for all those who need these services, regardless of their age, much as the current NSF service models on stroke and dementia.