SMC approves Benralizumab (Fasenra)

Today was a big day for many Scottish people living with severe asthma. Many of us live day to day taking medications that do not fully help relieve our asthma symptoms and keep our asthma under control. It can be very frustrating and scary to live day to day not knowing how you will be.

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In the UK medication approval is not universal. England and Scotland have different groups which approve or reject medications which could become part of the NHS formulary making it available to patients.

England have NICE- the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. NICE approved Fasenra earlier this year meaning it was available to patients who fit the criteria for it. However in Scotland we had a longer wait meaning many with severe asthma have been able to see the positive effects this drug has had on people in England knowing that they are not guaranteed it because the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has to approve it. The last monoclonal antibody Reslizumab was approved by NICE but rejected by the SMC so many were waiting with baited breath today to see what the SMC would do.

It was a huge relief today when I got a phonemail from Asthma UK to say it has been approved. This means there is one more drug out there for those with severe asthma to try and hope that it will be their wonder drug. The weird thing with monoclonal antibody treatments (aka the mabs) is that they work for some and not for others. Just because you qualify for them through your IgE or eosinophil count does not mean that it will make a difference. This leaves many feeling lost and wondering if there will ever be a break for them from living with daily symptoms struggling to breath something no one should ever have to do.

The below is part of the press release from Asthma UK which I contributed to about the impact that severe asthma has had only life and what the approval by the SMC means:

“My severe asthma leaves me gasping for breath, exhausted and unable to even walk down the road. While I’ve had asthma all my life, it worsened as I got older. I had no choice but to take long-term oral steroids at a high dose which has left me with terrible side effects including osteoporosis. I used to be sporty and had my dream job as a nurse but my asthma got so bad I had to give it up. This new drug could transform my life allowing me to get back into work and regain my independence. It’s high time that severe asthma was taken seriously and that everyone who needs this kind of drug is able to get it.”

I was also interviewed for the radio which went out across Global Radio Networks this evening which was also focused on living with severe asthma, the effects medications to date have had on me and what Fasenra could mean for me and many others like me.

I am really proud to have been able to share my story but also that there is light at the end of the tunnel for others. It finally feels like severe asthma is being recognised. It seems that asthma only makes the headlines when a young person dies from an attack which is catastrophic but asthma should not be in the headlines for this, this should not even be occurring but it is. Despite this asthma is not being recognised. Hopefully there will be enough coverage about the approval of Fasenra in Scotland and how many people it may benefit from it that asthma may get taken more seriously and there will be more funding available to help those with severe asthma whose lives are being dictated by a condition that is so misunderstood despite their own and their medical teams best efforts to control it.

For me I had hoped mepolizumab would be my wonder drug. I still hope that it will be but I am not sure. I am still reliant on oral steroids and not able to reduce my maintenance dose, I have had to give up work, have also recently decided to step back from some of my lacrosse commitments all because of my asthma. My best efforts to control it are not enough but there are limited medications available to me that I have not tried which could help me. With each new drug that is approved there is that little bit more hope that one day my asthma will no longer dictate my life and just be a part of my life that does not cause me any problems.

Just use appropriate pictures!!!

I really can’t believe its been a week since I got back to the UK and Healthevoices is over. I still can’t put into words how I feel about it. It was nothing I could ever imagine and really can’t put it in words. It was truly fantastic.

Before I settle to write about the HealtheVoices experience there is something that was posted recently which has really caused a lot of uproar.

Asthma hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons all the time. Normally it is the number of asthma deaths that are occurring hits the headlines which shockingly is at 3 every day in the UK and 11 in the US everyday. Way way to high for a condition that is fairly common but equally under funded.

One of the reasons given to the poor asthma death rate is poor asthma management and poor inhaler technique. There has been a massive push recently in primary care and secondary care to ensure that patients are taking their inhalers when they need to but not only when they need to we need to make sure they are being taken correctly. Unlike tablets which can only really betaken on way, or injections again which when subcutaneous you can’t go massively wrong however inhalers is a whole new board game. The sheer number of different types of inhalers then the need for multi tasking when taking them as you need to breath in, spray inhaler, then take it and hold your breath. There is not enough time given to assessing the type of inhaler which will be best for the patient and suit their needs. Especially the younger people and again older people due to dexterity issues. Even being young, fit and with it taking an inhaler correctly can be hard.

I like to think my inhaler technique is pretty good. I do and have been told on occasion that my technique specifically using my MDI (the traditional spray) inhaler is not quite right. I was even told at an asthma research meeting by one of the Dr’s there my technique was questionable but he said he let me away with it as I was about to go on stage to speak in front of about 150 people. But it shows that even those who can have good technique can slip when not concentrating 100% on what they are doing.

Asthma nurses, dr’s, patients and researchers on twitter were in uproar after the below photo was posted by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

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This picture is a complete 101 on how not to take your inhaler. Everything about it is wrong. Quite rightly everyone has been very annoyed by the main centre of excellence for health in the UK getting a photo so wrong. They have clearly not taken any time over selecting a picture or thought about the impression it is going to have on anyone that sees it.

This is not a new issue. Every week there are photos printed/posted relating to asthma which do not show good inhaler technique or even a technique which is relating to the current guidelines. It seems that everyone has their image bank and go to that, select a nice photo and that’s the one that is used.

I have and I am sure many others have come to the conclusion that the image banks have not been updated and are all out of date and not in keeping with current best practice.

As a result of this I have decided to try and make a change. I want to update these image banks and have a wide range of photos, some of older people using their inhaler, some younger people, a mix of devices as well but the key thing is to have the photos which display the current best practice.

I have been very fortunate to have so many people come forward to help with this so I am keen to get started. I have never done anything like this before but the hope is there will be more photos like the one below and zero photos appearing similar to the above.

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Asthma in the news

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Asthma has been in the news a lot recently, most of this has been reports on how awful the asthma care is for those with asthma in the UK.

It is not all negative and there has been the odd positive bit of reporting such as new drugs being developed or gaining approval for use from NICE or the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Most written reports both negative and positive have one common theme which is the use of pictures. These pictures are not promoting good inhaler technique as there is a lack of spacer which is recommended in guidelines produced for asthma management. For anybody no matter how young or old when using a MDI (metered dose inhaler) inhaler also known as a puffer should be using a spacer device to ensure the medication in the inhaler gets into the airways and work where it is needed. Using an MDI without a spacer will often result in the medication being left on your tongue or the back of your throat and not in your lungs. The spacer will prevent this.

Asthma is so misunderstood as a condition. It is essential that media outlets use images which are in date and reflect the current recommendations made by SIGN, BTS or NICE who are the tasked with developing pathways for asthma management. The media using images which reflect correct technique won’t drastically improve the horrendous asthma statistics in the UK but it will make people more aware of the use of a spacer along with their inhaler rather than the inhaler on its own.

Small changes like this can help influence bigger changes in the future. If inhaler technique is correct then the lungs are getting the treatment they require to prevent the asthma from flaring up and therefore will in turn reduce asthma exacerbations, hospital admissions and even asthma death.

Please share this post as it is vital that the media start using new photographs with people using inhalers as recommended in current guidelines.

Botched asthma diagnosis…

Nothing like the sun newspaper to come up with a good headline:

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I may not be totally accurate in my view that for a long time asthma was a bit of a buzz word within the medical world. From reading and talking to different people it appeared that often people would go to their Dr because of a prolonged cough of some viral wheeze and come home with an inhaler and asthma diagnosis. I admit this is a huge assumption and there will have been more supporting evidence but it almost seems over recent years there has been an epidemic of asthma diagnosis

However last week NICE (National Institute for health and Care Excellence) published a draft report suggesting that over 1 million people in the UK had been wrongly diagnosed with asthma. That is 1/5 of the 5.4 million people who have asthma could actually not have asthma. I feel that if asthma statistics are not shocking enough lets just add some more stats and make it even worse.

The problem with asthma is that there are so many sub types, different phenotypes, different symptoms, triggers and so on and so forth. There is also no hard and fast rule of how to diagnose asthma. There are rough outlines for example recording a peak flow diary for a few weeks to see patterns and changes and depending on the result of this an asthma diagnosis can be made. However many people will present acutely with breathing difficulties which need to be treated first and not wait to do a peak flow diary. Due to the pressures on GP’s they do not have the time to spend with a patient making regular appointments to monitor them over a period of time before coming to the conclusion that the patient has asthma. You can read a small bit about this in one of my guest blogs by Laura (can be found in left side tab under Guest blogs) where she talks briefly about being diagnosed with asthma.

When I heard about the draft report from NICE part of me thought perhaps I could be one of those wrongly diagnose but that is very much wishful thinking. I think after 27 years of asthma, 11 years of brittle asthma, countless hospital and critical care admissions they would have worked out if I did not have asthma. But one can dream in the hope of one day not having asthma!!!

I can’t imagine the emotion and thoughts going through some peoples mind about wether they have asthma or not. I worry that many who are not particularly symptomatic and use inhalers regularly will stop using their inhalers because they may assume they don’t have asthma. This could potentially cause a huge problem and the aim of reducing hospital admissions due to asthma and deaths due to asthma may not decrease but might in fact increase as a result of many people hearing or reading shock headlines such as the Sun produced.

Asthma is such a difficult condition to have and to monitor because of the sheer numbers of people who have asthma.  My thoughts about why statistics surrounding asthma are so bad because it is a condition which does not cause a immediate deterioration if medication is not taken. To pick another condition such as diabetes, there is a very measurable way to see impact of medication. If a diabetic does not take insulin they will see very quickly their blood sugars increase and develop unwanted symptoms whereas with asthma if someone who is well controlled stops taking their inhaler there is no immediate effect which I believe could contribute to poor compliance as the effects of the inhaler would only be seen if the patient was subjected to a trigger.

When NICE put out the draft report about the possibility of so many people being wrongly diagnosed with asthma I was called by Asthma UK to do a radio interview about it. I was not able to participate in this unfortunately as it would be a chance to emphasise the importance of continuing medication even if you are not bothered by your asthma as the reason you are not bothered by it is because you are taking inhalers. I am glad in a way I was not able to participate in the interview because once I gave the report some thought it dawned on me that here in Scotland we do not use NICE guidelines for conditions and management but instead use SIGN who have not issued any reports about the possibility of inaccurate asthma diagnosis.

There does need to be a more robust and universal method of diagnosing asthma but I think this is a very difficult task to succeed on. Due to the nature of asthma as I said before there would need to be numerous different guides depending on the subtype, triggers or symptoms an individual suffered from.

in the meantime I can only hope that those who are in two minds about their asthma seek medical advice before stopping taking their treatment. It is a huge fear that this report will cause a lot of people to become unwell and possibly end up needing hospital treatment due to not taking their medication. It will be interesting to see in the future the impact that this has had.