I remember the kid at school who was asthmatic. He was always wheezing, had a lot of days off and carried an inhaler, which seemed quite exotic. Today I know a lot of kids with them, largely unused beyond the odd flare up caused by a chesty cold.
The definition of ‘asthmatic’ has shifted, and some clinicians think it’s too liberal. Inhalers have now become ‘a fashion accessory’, which is an idea in itself. I’m sure a Versace or Gucci one would fly out of the Knightsbridge branch of Boots, but I digress.
There’s a wider question about whether we give out too much medicine now, or was it just too little in the past. For asthma inhalers, it’s a low stakes game. They do provide relief for kids who 30 years ago wouldn’t have got them, and if there are any side effects they’re pretty minimal.
There’s a cost question of course, but in the UK this is relatively small. Overall NHS waste is estimated at £2 billion – not to be dismissed but small beer in a budget of £120 billion. But it’s the harm of too much medicine that should concern us. Take our penchant for handing out antibiotics. The government recently reported that anti-microbial resistance could be killing more people than cancer by 2050, as overuse makes our old standbys obsolete. Is it time to use discretion as readily as the scrip pad?