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Thousands benefit from improved access to innovative diagnostics and life-changing treatments in asthma care

Thousands of people across England are benefiting from improved access to diagnostics and treatments for asthma. To mark World Asthma Day (2 May), AHSNs are celebrating the achievements of two national programmes which have transformed asthma pathways.

Asthma is a common health condition, affecting more than 5.4 million people in the UK. It can have a huge impact on the lives of patients due to exacerbations, medication side-effects and life-threatening asthma attacks. The NHS spends £1.1 billion on asthma annually, around 90% of which is spent on medicines.

From April 2021 to March 2023, AHSNs in England supported the adoption and spread of two innovations under the Accelerated Access Collaborative’s (AAC) Rapid Uptake Products (RUP) programme: asthma biologics and fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) testing.

Asthma biologics are new treatments for patients with severe asthma. They work in a targeted way by disrupting pathways causing airways inflammation, helping to manage symptoms and reduce relapses. These therapies can transform patients’ lives by reducing long-term side effects of other treatments, such as steroids, and reduce the number of life-threatening asthma attacks.

FeNO tests are simple, non-invasive tests to measure the amount of nitric oxide in an exhaled breath – a biomarker for airway inflammation. FeNO testing can improve patient care by contributing to a faster and more effective diagnosis, alongside a clinical history and other tests, and can be used to monitor patient response to treatments.

Both innovations were selected after being identified as products that aligned with the NHS Long Term Plan’s key clinical priorities but had a lower-than-expected uptake to date. Oxford AHSN led the asthma biologics programme. Wessex AHSN led the FeNO programme.

Professor Gary Ford, Chief Executive of the Oxford AHSN and Chair of the AHSN Network, said: “Our asthma programmes have had significant impact on improving the lives of people with severe asthma across England. The programmes have focused on collaboration at a national, regional and local level across healthcare systems, industry partners, patients, and the third sector to support the integration of both FeNO and asthma biologics into everyday practice so that more patients can benefit from these life-changing innovations.”

Key impacts:

More than 4,690 new patients initiated onto asthma biologics.

Around 3,000 fewer patients are being prescribed 3g or more of oral steroid prednisolone each month.

More than 1,200 new FeNO devices in use in primary care.

An estimated 58,000 new asthmatics diagnosed faster and more accurately by FeNO.

AHSNs worked within their individual systems to support asthma pathway improvements by providing clinical leadership, sharing best practice and developing supporting materials for those involved in asthma care. This included the creation of a package of educational resources for each innovation, including information documents, podcasts, posters, learning modules and webinars. The toolkits were designed in a practical way to support teams adopting and sustaining the use of FeNO and asthma biologics. They will remain available and accessible for free to NHS staff.

For clinicians and those delivering asthma care, significant support and training was provided across both asthma biologics and FeNO.

More than 5,000 hours of specialist training was delivered to upskill those providing asthma care.

Online resource toolkits for asthma biologics and FeNO have been accessed more than 33,000 times.

More than 1,000 healthcare professionals attended webinars on asthma biologics.

722 people joined five national FeNO collaboratives to share learning and best practice

Find out more about the programmes and access the Asthma Biologics toolkit.