The Asthma Society of Ireland has launched Stopping Asthma Deaths in Ireland, the organisation’s new 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, which commits to bringing an end to asthma deaths by 2030. 380,000 people currently have asthma in Ireland. At least one person with asthma dies every week in Ireland due to the disease, with an estimated 90 per cent of these deaths believed to be preventable.
Sarah O’Connor, CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, said: “The core focus of our work until 2030 will be eradicating asthma deaths. While we do know that the vast majority of asthma deaths are preventable in Ireland, there is not sufficient data to precisely identify what is causing them. This leaves healthcare planners uninformed and patients at unnecessarily high risk. It is critical that the Minister for Health commits to conducting a comprehensive investigation into asthma deaths and to publishing a plan to drastically reduce asthma deaths in Ireland.”
As the organisation embarks on its fifth decade, the Asthma Society’s new five-year strategic plan is intentionally ambitious. CEO Sarah O’Connor joined the organisation in February 2018 and has set about making the Asthma Society a force for change in the Irish healthcare landscape. It quickly became clear to Sarah that every action taken in the organisation was ultimately an integral step to, not just improving the lives of people with asthma, but saving their lives. The new strategic plan for the organisation brings together its health promotion, education, advocacy, awareness and fundraising functions to deliver the best services possible for asthma patients.
Sarah O’Connor continued, “We know that asthma can be mistakenly considered – including by some patients and medical professionals – a harmless condition experienced in early childhood. Although asthma can be easily managed for many people living with the disease, it can severely impede patients’ physical, mental and financial well-being and, without proper treatment, can – and at times does – prove fatal.
Without access to specialist care, regular medical reviews and tailored self-management plans, improved prescription protocols and access to life-changing medications, people with asthma will continue to die. We in the Asthma Society will continue to deliver best-in-class services and supports and to advocate on behalf of patients to secure financial supports. We are also more focused than ever on ensuring asthma patients are receiving equal access to the highest standard of care and are therefore calling on the incoming government to commit to a national review of asthma deaths in its programme for government.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the Asthma Society considers its work to be more critical than ever.
Sarah O’Connor, concluded: “The Asthma Society’s work has become more important than ever in recent weeks, given that a reported 10 per cent of those needing intensive care due to coronavirus have asthma as an underlying illness and a further 22 per cent having another chronic respiratory illness.
In March and April alone, we fielded 2,251 support calls and queries (up from 293 in the same period in 2019); 1,031 appointments were made with our specialist Asthma and COPD Adviceline nurses (up from 489 in the same period in 2019) and 12,810 Asthma Action Plans – a crucial element of effective asthma self-management – were downloaded from our website (up from 356 in the same period in 2019). Our website visitors have increased 611% to 470,000 over March/April 2020 (up from 66,619 in 2019). We have redeployed five staff, recruited four additional staff members and doubled our nurse hours to field the surge in calls from concerned patients and their carers.
We also launched our new Beating Breathlessness service during Asthma Awareness Week in May for people with asthma and COPD. This service allows patients with asthma or COPD to message a respiratory specialist nurse to get support, advice and information about their condition. We are asking patients to save the Beating Breathlessness number on their phones – (086) 059 0132 and to send a WhatsApp message to our nurse to start their asthma/COPD chat today.
We could not be prouder of the work we are undertaking to help vulnerable patients during the pandemic; we are seeing its impact every day. We are keeping patients safe and well at home.”
Chairperson Allan Kearns said, “It is vital now in the current pandemic, more than ever, that a respiratory charity has a powerful and realistic statement of intent. The Society is challenged to build on the scale of our programmes and to play a role in building a different healthcare system. We are also adapting and enhancing our fundraising to survive in uncertain times and prioritising governance so our many stakeholders can continue to have confidence in us.
In the long-term, to achieve this ambitious five-year strategic plan, Stopping Asthma Deaths in Ireland, we have been steadily transforming ourselves as a charity. Our volunteer board is more diverse than ever. We have built a new research capacity within the Society, recognising that evidence-based advocacy is vital to making progress. Our use of technology is expanding our reach – we have launched only this month a new WhatsApp advice service complementing our traditional phone-based specialist nurse Adviceline. We are looking forward and aiming high.”
The Asthma Society’s five year strategy, Stopping Asthma Deaths in Ireland, can be viewed and downloaded from asthma.ie. The strategy was developed on foot of engagement with patients and healthcare professionals through focus groups, surveys, one-to-one meetings and at key events, and the Asthma Society welcomes feedback on its strategy.