Ministers anger asthma sufferers

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Ministers faced criticism from asthma sufferers and family doctors last night, after refusing to make the reduction of asthma a key target in the Health of the Nation campaign.

The decision disappointed doctors and more than 2 million sufferers who have been pressing the Government to include asthma in the list of diseases to be tackled by special measures. The condition was excluded from the Health of the Nation strategy launched in July 1992 by Virginia Bottomley, then Secretary of State for Health.

Although the incidence of asthma is increasing, for reasons which have yet to be fully understood, it will not be included among the targets set for reducing the rates of death or serious illness from diseases such as breast and cervical cancer, mental illness, coronary heart disease and strokes.

The targets have been used to measure success or failure in dealing with diseases in the priority list. The strategy has been broadly welcomed by all parties, and there was widespread support for asthma to be included, but the Government slipped an answer through the Commons, under cover of other health and environment initiatives, rejecting the calls.

John Horam, Health minister, said: "We have considered very carefully the case for asthma to be given key area status, but have decided against it. We have concluded that improving the management of asthma remains the responsibility of the NHS working partnership with organisations and there is limited scope for additional cross-government working."

The refusal will be seen as a cost-saving measure to avoid paying GPs extra amounts for seeing asthma sufferers.

However, Mr Horam also announced consultation on the creation of an "environment key area" covering air quality and the possible respiratory effects of air pollution. He said the Department of Health was committed to an extensive research programme into asthma. The National Asthma Campaignwould commission NHS-sponsored research on the effectiveness of treatments and services for asthma sufferers.