This site is intended for health professionals only

88% say they lack asthma first aid

Most people would not know how to help a child who was having an asthma attack, a survey by a charity has suggested.

Asthma UK polled around 2,200 people to mark World Asthma Day and found that 88% of respondents said they would not know what to do in such a situation.

The condition kills the equivalent of a classroom-full of children each year - around 1.1 million children under the age of 15 have asthma.

A recent inquest into the death of 11-year-old Sam Linton at Offerton High School in Stockport, held in March, ruled that a key reason for the child's death was neglect at the school - five staff members were suspended because Sam had been left in a corridor struggling to breathe after he had an asthma attack.

In February last year, a survey of 1,600 teachers in England found that around three in every four of those questioned said they would not know what to do for a child who was having an asthma attack.

Asthma UK's Neil Churchill said: "Every member of the public needs to know the signs of worsening asthma and what steps to take if someone suffers an asthma attack. Not acting quickly enough can result in needless deaths that shatter lives.

"The NHS also needs to take a zero tolerance approach to asthma deaths - parents who have lost children to asthma have told us they feel that a more proactive approach from health professionals might have made a crucial difference."

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Asthma UK

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I think that you will find that many children in school DO have their inhalers with them at all times - they certainly do in my school right from age 4. All our first aiders are trained to deal with asthma attacks, and would call an ambulance if necessary. The difficulty we encounter more often than not is the child who does not have their inhaler in school at all, or who has one that is out of date! Some parents, and I know most are very careful, don't seem to take it at all seriously themselves which
leaves the school in a difficult position" - Ally Wright, West Midlands

"I've been trying to address this for years as a school nurse employed by schools. All teachers should be trained in first aid and management of medical conditions. They are still front line even in schools with nurses, plus they take pupils off site. A change in the law so that emergency asthma inhalers and adrenaline can be kept for trained first aider use instead of cupboards full of named and unused medication or the lost, forgotten denial syndrome. Giving school nurses the power to prescribe inhalers and run clinics may also provide greater compliance and awareness in schools" - Sarah Day, Sussex

"School children of any age are not allowed to have their salbutamol inhaler with them, which in itself is dangerous.  Most inhalers are locked in an office. What does a child do when they are having an asthma attack. As a practice nurse I advised all parents to discuss their child's asthma with the school and encourage the child to keep a salbutamol inhaler in their bag at all times. Parents are becoming frustrated as children are not allowed to do this, most will ensure their child does have an inhaler to hand and is taught when to use it.  Schools need to be told that they could be tried for possible murder by not allowing a child their inhaler when the child needs it. Another problem is when the child asks for its inhaler the person who has them, teacher or receptionist, says they don't need it, thereby undermining all the work that the parents do in educating their child to recognise the symptoms which could lead to an asthma attack" - Alison Meacham, Walsall

"Another problem is that many schools do not have school nurses any more, especially in a rural area, which is where I work. Teachers would have to deal with the situation" - Pauline Morrison, Scotland

"I agree with the views expressed here. When I worked as a school nurse in the 1990s it was the same. Despite the existence of policies on emergency asthma care in schools the implementation was ad hoc and any liaison with GP practices minimal. I actually wrote a paper on this which highlights the issues. Quality improvement for long-term conditions such as asthma is not 'rocket science' - we need properly trained nurses to deliver patient education in partnership with their GP practice. A consistent approach across all health settings, including schools is needed. For anyone interested, please see the paper: Gleeson C (2005).  School children's views of asthma services in two contrasting general practice populations. Primary Health Care Research and Development 6, 341-347" - Catherine Gleeson, West Yorkshire

"Surely the school nurses should have expertise in this area since it is fairly common amongst school children. Teachers are specialists in teaching and should not have to be specialists in nursing/medical care also. Nurses should be part of the education team and be available to deal with such emergencies as well as educate children about healthy lifestyles etc" - Christina Milligan, Scotland

"I tried rewriting the school policy a few years ago when I was chair of governors. I also provided the school with asthma self-management plans for each affected child. The plans were never implemented and the LEA overrode my policy. Their policy was frankly dangerous, and I know of one death and one child who ended up in ITU due to uncontrolled asthma in that area. Both incidences occurred on school trips. I regularly write out self-management plans for children and adults, but few people seem to take them seriously! Yet these are recommended in the BTS guidelines" - Penny Hughes, London

"I agree completely, even school nurses are not targeted as key workers for this huge problem. As a practice nurse fairly new into post I had a respiratory rep with me giving me placebos and highlighted this to him as an area which would be useful for them to target. I realise it is a difficult area for teachers to administer medication to a child but should possibly be given emergency training and each child should have a consent form in place for a specific event such as an asthma attack. Also not all children attend for regular reviews and better communication between schools and GP surgeries would hopefully highlight the problem" - Teresa O'Brien, Liverpool