A new survey of general practitioners (GPs) indicates that asthma education for healthcare professionals is a low priority, despite over half of GPs agreeing that the number of deaths from asthma could be reduced with better care.

The survey, by charity Asthma UK and the Primary Care Respiratory Society UK (PCRS), found that over half of GPs polled recognise that their own knowledge about the condition could be improved, a finding which reflects separate survey results from PCRS showing that over half of the GPs questioned gave incorrect answers to questions on UK clinical guidelines for asthma.

This is particularly concerning, given that training budgets around the UK are at risk of being cut as part of the drive to reduce costs, say the groups, which are urging commissioners of education and training across the UK to prioritise asthma education.

Over half of GPs interviewed for the survey agreed that the number of emergency hospitalisations could be reduced wit better care. These findings reflect those reported by the National Quality Board, which has identified asthma as a neglected topic where there is great scope and potential to improve healthcare quality.

Moreover, 47% of the GPs agree that asthma care could be improved cost-effectively. Hospital admissions for the condition form a significant part of the estimated £1 billion cost of asthma to the NHS each year, with emergency hospital admissions for both children and adults costing the Service over £60 million each year, yet 75% of admissions are avoidable though effective asthma management and routine care.

This potentially means that over £45 million is being wasted, says Asthma UK.

Other barriers cited by GPs in delivering an improvement in asthma care include people not taking their medicines correctly (72% of GPs agree), while 46% also agree that there is not enough time to educate patients about their asthma. And 60% said that GPs and nurses should share the main responsibility of managing asthma in primary care.

'The new extended role of GPs in making decisions about the local NHS means that it's becoming more important than ever that they fully understand asthma," said Neil Churchill, chef executive of Asthma UK.

"It’s therefore very concerning that such a high proportion of GPs are saying they need more asthma education when education and training budgets are under threat. We're urging commissioners of education and training to not cut budgets - it's completely counter-productive and will only lead to poorer-quality care and worse outcomes, potentially adding further costs for acute care as well as causing unnecessary suffering for people with asthma," he warned.

PCRS executive chair Dr Iain Small added: "we believe that the breadth and depth of skills in asthma care has slipped in recent years, despite the evidence that asthma care and outcomes improve when clinicians receive recognised training. The publication of national standards for asthma would be one mechanism by which the NHS could ensure that services are fit for purpose and cover all aspects of asthma care, including emergency and life-threatening situations."

Responding to the survey findings, a Department of Health spokesperson said: "we know that there is no 'one size fits all' solution to our health, particularly for long-term conditions such as asthma. That is why we want to put local health experts in charge of commissioning services for patients so they have the power and budget to provide personalised care."