New data from Asthma UK shows that hundreds of thousands of children with asthma are struggling to access life-saving medicine in school emergencies because of needless red tape.
A survey of children with asthma from across the UK aged between 5 and 18 found that almost two thirds have had an asthma attack at school. Asthma attacks can be fatal and it is vital for children to be able to get to emergency medicines quickly - yet regulations2 mean that schools are not allowed to have an asthma inhaler in their first aid kit.
The drugs most commonly used to treat asthma attacks, bronchodilators (blue ‘reliever’ inhalers), are prescription-only medicines, which means that schools are not allowed to keep a spare inhaler for emergencies when children don’t have their own inhaler. This is deeply worrying given that one in five children with asthma in Asthma UK’s survey find it ‘quite’ or ‘very difficult’ to access their inhaler at school and over half (55%) do not always know where it is or how to get it. There are 1.1 million children with asthma in the UK, all of whom depend on inhalers to keep them well. If these findings reflect the experience of the whole population, this means that over 600,000 children are at risk.
Emily Humphreys, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Asthma UK said: ‘These medicines are very safe but going without them can be very dangerous, so it is crucial that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) changes the rules and allows schools to keep a spare inhaler as a last resort. The majority of children know to find a teacher if they don’t have their own inhaler when having an asthma attack at school but the reality is that there is very little that staff can legally do to help in this situation. This puts children at risk’.
Legalisation of inhaler kits in schools would be a relatively straightforward matter for the MHRA. All that is needed is an exemption to the regulations which allows schools across the UK to supply bronchodilators to children who have asthma. Similar exemptions already exist for organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the armed forces, but to date the MHRA has not considered making an arrangement like this for inhalers in schools.
There are on average two children in every class in the UK with asthma, making it the most common long-term condition in childhood. Every year the equivalent of a classroom of children die as a result of the condition despite the fact that up to 90% of deaths are thought to be preventable with the right care and management.
Viv Marsh, Paediatric Asthma Nurse Specialist in Dudley says: ‘I go into schools in my local area and work with them so I know that having an emergency inhaler will make a huge difference. It could reduce emergency hospital admissions and may improve asthma management so it’s vital that this is rolled out across the UK and we make emergency inhalers accessible to all schools, giving them a safe and speedy way of getting help for a child with asthma any time they need it’.
The survey carried out by Asthma UK also highlights that 64% of children with asthma have at some point been unable to access a working reliever inhaler in school, having either forgotten, lost, broken or run out of their own. Considering that almost two thirds (62%) of children with asthma have had an asthma attack when they have been at school this is a huge issue that needs to be addressed.
The campaign has attracted the support of a number of professional bodies, including the Primary Care Respiratory Society (PCRS-UK) and charities Education for Health and the George Coller Memorial Fund. A broad range of MPs from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties as well as a Parliamentary campaign champion in the form of Stephen McPartland MP, the Chair of the All Party Group on Asthma are also backing the campaign.
In addition to this campaign, Asthma UK works with schools and with local authorities to increase awareness of these issues, and to encourage schools to adopt policies and training to ensure they are safe and inclusive environments for children with asthma.