Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

What GPs know about asthma

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2972
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

Recent headlines about general practitioners’ poor knowledge of asthma reflect flawed surveys, writes Margaret McCartney

Are general practitioners no good at treating asthma? “GPs poor asthma training ‘risks lives,’” said the Independent recently, sternly warning that “Asthma UK says a survey found that 47% of GPs admit that their own knowledge about the condition could be better . . . it estimates at least 45 million could be saved if GPs were better informed and care was better managed” (3 May 2011, poor-asthma-training-risks-lives-2278053.html).

The free Metro newspaper went with “Asthma deaths ‘could be cut with GP training,’” saying that doctors’ “education on the chronic condition is not a priority despite more than half of GPs agreeing that the number of deaths could be reduced with better care. Just under two thirds said that they felt that public awareness of asthma could be improved, while 47% admitted their own knowledge was lacking. This reflects a Primary Care Respiratory Society survey in which more than half of the GPs questioned gave incorrect answers on clinical guidelines for asthma” (2 May 2011,

Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK, said on BBC Radio 5 Live, “Unfortunately, the majority of GPs …

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