Introduction: The Eastern Region Confidential Enquiry into asthma deaths started in 2001. It incorporates the Norwich and East Anglian Enquiries started in 1988 and 1992, respectively. The aim of this study was to analyse all asthma deaths in the Eastern region between 2001 and 2003, to elicit any factors contributing to the patients' deaths, and to make comparisons with the previous Norwich and East Anglian data.
Method: Patient details were obtained for all deaths in the Eastern Region under the age of 65 with asthma recorded in the first part of the death certificate. Patients' notes were reviewed by members of the Working Group - a consultant chest physician and a general practitioner (GP). In most cases, the patient's GP was contacted. Data were obtained on the patients' asthma care, asthma severity, terminal attack, psychosocial and behavioural factors, allergies, precipitating factors, and post-mortem findings. The quality of medical care was assessed and compared with national guidelines.
Results: Total study population was 5.25 million. Only 57/95 notified deaths (60%) were confirmed as asthma deaths. 311 asthma deaths have been studied between 1988 and 2003. In 2001-2003, male:female ratio was 3:2. Further data were unavailable on three cases. 53% of patients had severe asthma and 21% moderately severe disease. In 19 cases (33%) at least one significant co-morbid disease was present. Monthly death rates peaked in August, with a smaller peak in April. In 11 cases (20%), mostly males aged under 20, the final attack was sudden and 10/11 occurred between April and August. In 81% of cases there were significant behavioural and/or psychosocial factors such as poor compliance (61%), smoking (46%), denial (37%), depression (20%) and alcohol abuse (20%). The overall medical care of the patient was appropriate in 33% of cases.
Conclusions: Between 1988 and 2003 there was a downward trend in asthma mortality rate in East Anglia. In 2001-2003, misclassification of deaths attributed to asthma was still common. Most patients who die of asthma have severe asthma. In 81% of cases, behavioural and psychosocial factors contributed to the patient's death. In 80% of deaths the final attack was not sudden, and may have been preventable. Almost all sudden deaths occurred between April and August, suggesting a seasonal allergic cause. In two-thirds of asthma deaths, medical management failed to comply with national guidelines. 'At-risk' asthma registers in primary care may improve recognition and management of 'at-risk' patients.