Milburn puts child asthma top of agenda

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Tackling asthma in children has been made one of the Department of Health's key priorities by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State.

In a further success for the IoS campaign on the disease, Mr Milburn has decided to push childhood asthma to the top of a new strategy on improving children's health.

Paediatricians are to help draft plans to improve the performance of GPs and hospitals, which have let down the 1.2 million asthmatic children in Britain.

The plan – a national service framework to be published next year – will give greater emphasis to treating asthma and helping sufferers.

"We want to improve the health of our nation's children," Mr Milburn told The Independent on Sunday. "That means tackling health inequalities; it means addressing important areas like asthma and putting in place a set of national standards for children's services."

The minister is the fifth to act on asthma and pollution since our campaign began four months ago, following evidence that ozone air pollution could cause the disease.

The World Health Organisation has called for all European governments to act on asthma, which it warned was a greater threat to child health than both HIV/Aids and TB.

In another development, the European Commission is to prioritise research to investigate the links between asthma and diet, genes and the environment, in a €18.5bn (£12bn) research programme investigating theories that poor diet, pollution and damage to the immune system are root causes.

Mr Milburn's initiative was welcomed by the National Asthma Campaign, which has criticised the health service's handling of asthma.

But the NAC's chairman, Professor Martin Partridge, said ministers also needed to fund basic asthma research and give "self-management" plans to all 5.1 million sufferers. "For government action to be meaningful, it has to prevent the disease rather than just manage it well," he said.