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Hearing half the message? A re-audit of the care of patients with acute asthma by emergency ambulance crews in London
  1. H Snooks1,
  2. M Halter2,
  3. Y Palmer2,
  4. H Booth3,
  5. F Moore2
  1. 1Centre for Health Improvement Research and Evaluation, Clinical School, University of Wales Swansea, UK
  2. 2London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, UK
  3. 3UCLH, University College Hospital, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr H Snooks
 Centre for Health Improvement Research and Evaluation, Clinical School, University of Wales Swansea, Swansea SA2 0DD, UK;h.a.snooks{at}


Problem: An initial audit of the care provided to emergency asthma patients by the ambulance service was carried out in 1996. Some under-recognition and under-treatment of severe asthma was found as well as a lack of documentation of patient condition on scene. A re-audit was undertaken in 1999.

Design: A multidisciplinary advisory group was reconvened. The same method was adopted as for the first audit. Patients included were those administered nebulised salbutamol by crews in the catchment areas of four hospitals and those diagnosed with asthma at the Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments of those hospitals between January and March 1999.

Setting: London Ambulance Service.

Key measures for improvement: (1) Accuracy of diagnosis and appropriateness of treatment, and (2) adherence to protocol.

Strategies for change: Following the first audit, treatment protocols were widened and brought into line with the British Thoracic Society guidelines for care of acute asthma patients. The results were widely disseminated within the service and training was initiated for all operational staff.

Effects of change: The number of patients included in the re-audit more than doubled (audit 1: n = 252, audit 2: n = 532). The increase occurred exclusively in those administered nebulised salbutamol by ambulance crews but diagnosed with conditions other than asthma in A&E (audit 1: n = 15, audit 2: n = 161). The proportion of patients diagnosed with asthma in A&E who were administered nebulised salbutamol by their attending crew rose from 58% to 75%. However, 43 asthma patients were not treated; several of these were not recognised as suffering from asthma and others fell within the changed protocols for treatment. Adherence to protocol for administration of salbutamol remained high. Pre-hospital documentation of key observations did not improve.

Lessons learnt: Messages from the first audit seem to have been acted upon selectively. Implementing change is complex, and re-audit is necessary to understand the effects of the changes made.

  • asthma
  • clinical audit
  • emergency
  • ambulance service

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  • The study was funded within the ambulance service.

  • Competing interests: none.

  • HS designed and led the project and completed the drafting of the paper. MH undertook analysis and wrote the first draft of the paper. YP undertook data collection, coordinated the study, and contributed to the drafting of the paper. HB acted as clinical advisor to the project and contributed to the drafting of the paper. FM provided clinical guidance to the study and contributed to the drafting of the paper.

  • Following advice, ethical approval was not formally sought for this audit which did not involve approaching patients.