State could save €102m a year if asthma plan acted on – charity

Asthma Society of Ireland says many deaths and hospitalisations could be prevented

Ireland has the highest mortality rates from asthma in western Europe and people are dying needlessly because of poor disease management, it has been claimed.

The Asthma Society of Ireland said 63 people died from the condition in Ireland in 2016. It estimated that 890,000 people in Ireland have suffered from asthma at some stage in their lives and that 380,000 people have it at any one time.

In a report entitled Easing the Economic Burden of Asthma – The Impact of a Universal Asthma Self-Management Programme, it estimated the total cost to the State in terms of medical care and days lost is €472 million per year, an average of €1,242 per asthmatic person.

The society said up to €102 million could be saved every year if proper disease management was put in place.


Chief executive Sarah O’Connor said patients usually only present themselves when they are in crisis and 60 per cent of sufferers do not have the disease under control.

The society said a universal self-management programme for all asthma sufferers in the country could radically reduce hospitalisations and deaths from the disease.

It estimated that if every patient had such a programme, the number of GP visits associated with the illness would be reduced by up to 766,000 a year, the number of emergency department visits by 61,000 and the number of hospitalisations by 2,035.

Lost workdays

The society estimated the savings from a universal programme could be as much as €54 million a year in direct medical costs, with further savings of €48 million in a reduction in 290,000 lost workdays to the disease.

It is estimated that 1,379,576 work days are lost to asthma each year in Ireland.

The society cited Finland as a country where the universal management plan works best, and it has led in recent years to a drop of 33 per cent in deaths associated with asthma and a 36 per cent reduction in the costs associated with the disease over a 10 year time frame.

Ms O’Connor said: “The economic burden of managing asthma for individual patients is very real and it impacts greatly on healthcare outcomes. A universal asthma self-management programme can reduce both the cost factor and the fear factor in asthma management in Ireland.

“We wholeheartedly advocate for it, along with a number of other important policy changes aiming to eliminate asthma deaths and transform the lives of people with asthma.”

Marcus Butler, respiratory consultant at St Vincent's Hospital, said too many patients were being treated in emergency departments and out-of-hours GP practices when "they should instead be facilitated in getting on with their lives with minimal intrusion from what is largely a very treatable condition".

He said deaths from asthma were a “largely preventable catastrophic event”.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times