Catherine Stott has spent a small fortune trying to reduce the chances of her daughter having an asthma attack. All the carpets at their home in West Sussex have been pulled up and there are wooden blinds instead of curtains. The special bed sheets, mattress covers and pillowcases that stop dust mites triggering the disease cost £750.

Catherine Stott has spent a small fortune trying to reduce the chances of her daughter having an asthma attack. All the carpets at their home in West Sussex have been pulled up and there are wooden blinds instead of curtains. The special bed sheets, mattress covers and pillowcases that stop dust mites triggering the disease cost £750.

"It is unfair," says Catherine. "I know someone who lives 30 miles down the road in Southampton whose sons were not as bad as Adele, and they got all their bedding for free on the National Health."

Asthmatics suffer badly from the postcode lottery, the chaotic state of the NHS which means the standard of care you get depends on where you live. Some can visit a specially trained asthma nurse or a GP who has time to understand their symptoms and prescribe the best medicines. Others are given an inhaler, with very little instruction, and told to get on with life as best they can. More than half of all new asthma patients leave the surgery ignorant of what triggers their symptoms.

"People with asthma are not currently gaining equal access to the best possible care, as should be their right," said the all-party parliamentary group on asthma, after commissioning a survey that revealed dramatic differences in the priority GPs gave to the disease across the country. "It's terribly patchy and piecemeal," says Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the group.

Asthma costs the NHS about £1bn a year. The number of GP consultations to discuss asthma symptoms has doubled since 1985. However, more than half of the primary care organisations who responded to the MPs' survey admitted they did not treat asthma as a priority. Nearly as many wanted more money to spend on the disease – but said they could not do so until the Government made it an official national priority like mental health, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Since the survey, the Public Health minister, Yvette Cooper, has responded to the Independent on Sunday's campaign by including asthma in a new child health service framework for family doctors and clinics.

Specialist asthma nurses offer one way to improve treatment. The National Respiratory Training Centre, a charity, has educated 10,000 practice nurses over the last 15 years, but more are needed. They can ease the pressure on GPs by taking over all routine asthma appointments, and spend more quality time with patients.

"The doctors don't really want to talk or listen," says Adele Stott, 17, from experience. "They're like, 'You've got asthma, have some steroids, goodbye.'"

Adele was first diagnosed as having asthma at the age of 16 months. She was in and out of hospital throughout childhood, and lost a year of secondary school to illness. Like many asthmatics her main symptom is a persistently bad cough.

"The textbooks say asthmatics wheeze, so doctors look at your chest and say, 'You're fine, I can't hear anything, go home.' They don't take you seriously, as if you're making a fuss about nothing."

But she isn't, as Catherine testifies. "When Adele coughs she can't stop. She can't stand up, she can't do anything, and brings up a lot of stuff. It's very anti-social. People think she must be a heavy smoker."

Eventually, Catherine got sick of taking her daughter to see locums and junior doctors who did not take time to understand what they were seeing. "The last straw was when this upper-class little twit started to explain to me really slowly what the different medicines were, like I was some kind of cretin."

Now she pays £75 a time for private appointment with a consultant who has helped Adele become expert at managing her own symptoms. The right drugs are backed up with a £200 nebuliser, which she recently used on holiday to counter the effects of pollution in Madrid. "It is a lot of money," says Catherine, "but if you live where we do it seems you have to pay to be treated properly."

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