Horrified watching incorrect asthma advice on daytime TV

Normally I would be excited and shouting from the rooftops that there has been a segment dedicated to asthma on a very popular morning TV show.

Not this time, quite the opposite.

Everyone in the asthma field (patients, clinicians, pharmacists, industry, pharma as well as many more) has been left stunned and in utter disbelief after hearing a practicing Dr speak about asthma and take viewers through a step by step demonstration of using a pressurised Metered Dose Inhaler (pMDI) incorrectly.

The Dr (left), the pMDI (with no spacer present) and the hosts far right of BBC Morning Live

As a patient with severe asthma I cannot believe that the Dr gave out incorrect information on national television. If I was going to be on TV and demonstrating anything I would check, double check and triple check that the information I was giving viewers is correct and follows the national guidelines. I am truly gobsmacked that this was allowed to go out on air and was not checked beforehand.

The situation regarding asthma in the UK is horrendous which is why there has been outrage over the incorrect advice. In 2014 the National Review of Asthma Deaths was published, it highlighted the severity of the situation that the UK finds itself in regarding asthma. Two thirds of the asthma deaths could have been prevented and often occurred in people with mild asthma. These deaths could have been prevented if patients had adequate asthma education, yearly asthma reviews including checking inhaler technique and a personalised asthma action plan.

Inhaler technique is a key component for good asthma management. If a patient cannot take their medication correctly then they will not reap the benefits from it. It is essential that the medication dispensed from the inhaler reaches the lungs but with poor technique it is often deposited at the back of the throat or in the mouth resulting in the person asthma symptoms getting worse.

It sounds dramatic to say that the advice given out on BBC Morning Live could result in an asthma death but sadly that is the reality. Incorrect inhaler technique can be a massive contributing factor to worsening of asthma symptoms, escalation to a severe asthma exacerbation and then the possibility of death. However this cascade of events could be prevented if the patient knows how to and can use their inhaler correctly.

If I was someone who did not have a great knowledge of asthma and using inhalers but did have a pMDI and spacer device and saw the segment on asthma I would not question the advice given out. The person speaking is a qualified Dr so they must know what they are talking about, chances are I would not have recalled everything that I was told during an asthma review so seeing the demonstration on TV may have refreshed the process in my mind but I was given a spacer but the Dr on the TV didnt use one so maybe I don’t need to use it so I don’t. Remember this is hypothetical as if I don’t have much knowledge in asthma and inhaler use. I won’t think to question the Dr because they are a Dr just like my Dr in the GP surgery. There isn’t anything that makes them different so I trust what is being said. This trust could cost me my life if I have a severe asthma attack and follow steps I saw on TV.

The above highlights how someone might react when seeing the information on the TV. The TV and internet are two resources we use in everyday life to gain information and knowledge about all aspects of life. This is why shows such as BBC Morning Live needs to make sure the information particularly health information os correct.

Many members of the asthma community have spent years working hard to try and improve the outcomes for people with asthma. Improve understanding of the condition, ensure that anyone with an asthma diagnosis have a self management plan and that the patients are prescribed the correct inhalers and shown how to use them. The correct inhaler is decided by a conversation between clinician and patient to get a device that works for the patient and that they are happy to take and can take it correctly.

Last year I was involved in a campaign to ensure that the right inhaler and right image are used by the press. This campaign focused mainly on the use of the pMDI and making sure that images in the public domain follow current guidelines which advise the use of a spacer device when using a pMDI. The spacer device reduces the risk of errors occurring while administering the medication and ensures that the maximum amount of medication is deposited in the lungs and airways rather than left in the mouth or back of the throat. We fought hard for this to be recognised and push the ensure that the correct images are being used because as the saying goes a picture says a thousand words, we follow pictures. If there is a picture of a celebrity using an inhaler with a spacer device then more of the public will use their spacer device with their inhaler. The media has a massive role to play in the public perception of asthma and sadly all the hard work that we have done has now been wiped out by an ill thought through segment on asthma and inhaler technique that was broadcast on morning TV.

I am very very unhappy with the BBC Morning Live show and their handling of this. On the shows twitter page they posted a link and a snap shot video of the session with the Dr. They also included an email address to submit your questions. There has been a lot of activity in response to the tweet from the TV show but they have not acknowledged any of the tweets, nor has the Dr whose twitter handle was mentioned in the tweet from BBC Morning Live responded to the tweets. The replies to the tweets will have been seen as on both the show’s and the Dr’s account as there has been more recent activity. I think it is wholly irresponsible to not have acted upon the tweets and messages regarding the issue of incorrect asthma advice being given to the public. I along with many others have also emailed the show but have yet to receive a response. I do hope that tomorrow there will be a response as the email might not be getting checked (although it is because they have more recently asked for questions on a different health topic that is being discussed on the show). Many tweets from various different people were asking for the tweet with the snap shot video demonstrating using a pMDI to be removed due to how dangerous the information contained within it is.

Thankfully due to the social media activity Asthma + Lung UK (the UK’s national lung charity) were made aware of the incorrect advice given on the show and have advised viewers of this and have signposted people to their website and the videos they have demonstrating correct inhaler technique for a wide range of devices.

BBC Morning Live needs to hold their hands up and say they got it wrong but then also signpost viewers to Asthma + Lung UK where they can get the advice they need, watch videos about various aspects of lung disease including inhalers,. how to use them and the different types available which would go some way to repair the damage that they have caused.

As a former nurse I cannot wrap my head around why the Dr did not check that everything she was speaking about was correct and demonstrations followed national guidelines too. She needs to hold herself accountable. Im sure she did not set out to give incorrect medical advice but she has and she needs to say she also got it wrong but demonstrate how she is going to improve her knowledge to ensure it does not happen again. I worry about the patients she sees in clinical practice- how many of them may have been given incorrect advice and not know it. We have a duty of care, while we don’t get things right all the time, if we do get something wrong and this has been brought to our attention then we need to acknowledge this, thank those who brought it to your attention and correct what was wrong. (I have deliberately not named the Dr in this post. Im sure if you want it people will find it but I want the focus to be on what went wrong, why it was wrong and ways to correct it. It is not a witch hunt).

World Asthma Day is coming up on Tuesday 3rd May. The focus this year is closing the gaps in asthma care. It would go a long way for the asthma community if BBC Morning Live spoke with patients, Drs, industry etc on the role the media has in asthma care and how they can help ensure that the media is not responsible for creating an gaps in asthma knowledge and asthma care.

I hope the powers that be in the BBC do take what has happened seriously and put measures in place to make sure this does not happen again, not just regarding asthma but any health condition that the show focuses on. They need to make sure that no viewer is left questioning what they have seen on the show versus what they have been told by their healthcare provider.

1 thought on “Horrified watching incorrect asthma advice on daytime TV”

  1. Well said Olivia.
    It is not the first time the BBC have made mistakes with asthma advice and they have been dreadful at correcting themselves.
    What I don’t understand is why they try and reinvent the wheel instead of asking Asthma + Lung UK to allow their well researched and presented advice.

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