Patient groups have welcomed the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)'s new quality standard for asthma care, with Asthma UK stating that, if successful, it "could change millions of lives."

The quality standard, which covers the diagnosis and treatment of asthma in adults, young people and children aged 12 months and older, emphasises that an integrated approach to these services is vital.

It includes a prioritised set of specific, concise and measurable statements which, when delivered collectively, should contribute to improving the effectiveness, quality, safety and experience of care for people with the condition. Included among the 11 statements are that:
- adults with new-onset asthma are assessed for occupational causes:
- people with asthma receive a structured review at least annually;
- people aged five years or older presenting to a healthcare professional with a severe or life-threatening acute exacerbation of asthma receive oral or intravenous steroids within one hour of presentation;

- people with difficult asthma are offered an assessment by a multidisciplinary difficult asthma service.

There are currently more than 5.4 million people in the UK being treated for asthma, about 1.1 million of whom are children, says NICE. There were 1,131 deaths from the condition in the UK in 2009, of whom 12 were children aged 14 years and under, which is, on average, three people per day or one person every eight hours, it adds.

"Asthma is an area where we can, and should, be doing so much more," said Professor Sue Hill and Dr Robert Winter, joint National Clinical Directors for Respiratory Disease. They welcomed the new quality standard as "a great step forward as it reinforces those areas where best practice and guidelines should be applied."

"If we address the areas of care highlighted in this quality standard, then we should see significant improvements in outcomes for people living with asthma and their overall quality of life,' they added.

The quality standard has been endorsed by the charity Asthma UK, whose head of policy and public affairs, Emily Humphreys, said: "it will really help improve the quality of care provided for one of the most common long-term conditions - so it's no exaggeration to say that if this is successful, it could change millions of lives."

"We're particularly pleased to see the inclusion of personal asthma plans," she added. "People who have an action plan are four times less likely to need to be admitted to hospital, but only a tiny proportion of people with asthma are currently offered one. Making sure this is implemented will be the next key test for asthma in the UK," said Ms Humphreys.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, which has also endorsed the quality standard, points out that mortality from respiratory disease is 50% higher in the UK than the European Union (EU) average, and hospital admissions are significantly more common here than in elsewhere in the developed world.

"We hope that, by outlining priority areas for quality improvement, this new quality standard document will mark a significant step towards the kind of world-class care everyone working in the industry wants for the four and a half million people living with asthma across England," said Dr Woods.

- NICE quality standards describe high-priority areas of quality improvement in a defined care or service area. They are defined either from NICE guidance or NICE-accredited sources, and apply right across the NHS in England.