The lives of people with severe asthma in Sheffield and South Yorkshire are being changed for the better by teams of health professionals collaborating to deliver the latest treatments to patients.
Teams of doctors, nurses, therapists and administration staff at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals are working together to identify and treat patients who could benefit from a new drug, mepolizumab, which is now available on the NHS. The team is working closely with surrounding hospitals in South Yorkshire to make asthma care better for everyone in the region.
Mepolizumab specifically targets eosinophilic asthma – a type of asthma where the inflammation of the airways is linked to a particular type of white blood cell (eosinophils). The drug works by stopping the activity of a molecule which attracts the asthma-causing eosinophils.
Jane Farmilo, 53, of Tideswell, Derbyshire, is among the 100 patients who have benefitted from the treatment with mepolizumab and other similar medicines at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.
Jane has suffered from severe asthma since she was 15. The condition has made it difficult for her to do strenuous activities such as cycling and running, and when her two boys (now grown up) were young, she even found it difficult to read them long bedtime stories because it caused her to cough and wheeze.
She said: “When I was 17 I was very poorly in hospital with my asthma. Since then I have been able to control it quite well, but it has still had an effect on what I am able to do.
“It can make me very tired at times and is the reason I only work part-time. It can limit my activity because when I am not feeling well, I can’t walk up hill or up stairs.
“Controlling it required a lot of medication including steroids, which come with side-effects such as bone loss and weight gain.
“The mepolizumab has made a huge difference in terms helping me to control my asthma and reducing the amount of steroids I need to take. I have had just one short course since May, whereas before I was having a course every month. My outpatient appointments are more spaced out and I am not having as many GP appointments.
“Hopefully it will also mean I won’t need to have bone scans, which I may have done with the steroid treatment. It is really helping me to control my asthma and enabling me to do things I enjoy doing, such as walking in the Peak District.”
According to Asthma UK, 535,557 people in Yorkshire and the Humber have asthma, and in 2015 (the most recent data available) there were 105 deaths. Across the UK, 5.4 million people are receiving treatment for asthma, and in 2016 it caused 1410 deaths.
Sheffield is a specialist centre for asthma, along with hospitals in Hull and Leeds. These centres work closely with all hospitals in Yorkshire, and together form the Yorkshire Asthma Service.
Professor Ian Sabroe, respiratory specialist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “Normal asthma is fairly common and tends to be well controlled, but severe asthma can be very debilitating and potentially life-threatening.
“It can mean frequent time off work, regular hospital admissions, chronic breathing problems which make even routine tasks like going to the shops difficult, and turn coughs and colds into more serious health problems.
“The new treatment, together with the support of a range of staff, has really changed people’s lives, even transformed them. Some people will be able to become very active, playing sport and doing outdoor activities.
“For others it means that they no longer need to come in and out of hospital so regularly. It stops the inflammation, and means they need less steroid treatments.”
As well the doctors and nurses who administer mepolizumab, which is delivered as an injection, administration staff help to plan treatment for patients while speech therapists, physios and psychologists support patients with associated issues such as laryngeal and muscular problems and anxiety.
Jane said: “The treatment I have received has been incredible, and the staff have all been very professional and kind and really want the best for you.
“Their care has made a big difference to my life.”