As many as 4.6 million people in the UK are not receiving appropriate care for their asthma, leaving them at risk from a serious attack.

A nationwide survey by charity Asthma UK has revealed that 86% of patients may not be getting the care they need, with simple measures that could prevent attacks not consistently provided.

Aside from the obvious detriment to patients, asthma care failings could be costing the NHS huge amounts of money, given that in severe exacerbations of the disease patients will always end up in hospital.

In fact, according to the data, 179 asthmatics are admitted to hospital every day, patient deaths (3 a day) remain unacceptably high, and the NHS is now shelling out more than £1 billion a year on asthma care.

The charity said that the number of people that reported receiving care that fully met standards was low in all parts of the UK, but there was variation. 

Patients living in Northern Ireland (the first UK nation to introduce asthma care standards, in 2009) were more than twice as likely as those living in England and Wales to be receiving

care that met standards, and one and a half times more likely than those living in Scotland.

In England, just 22% of patients surveyed had been given an action plan (compared to 60% in Northern Ireland), while a quarter overall said they had not had a review of their asthma in the previous 12 months.

NICE quality standard

This is despite the introduction of the first National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Quality Standard for asthma care introduced earlier this year, outlining best management of the disease - including the recommendation that every asthmatic should have a written care plan.

"The NICE quality standard provides the NHS with the information and advice it needs to prevent asthma attacks and save lives, but without clear incentives to implement it, patients are telling us it is being neglected so far," Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, told the media.

On the back of these findings, Asthma UK has called on the NHS to urgently commission audits of asthma services "to provide its own formal assessment of the extent to which asthma care meets standards and create a baseline against which it must ensure improvements are continually being made".