Most NHS commissioning bodies in England do not hold enough information to allow them to tailor allergy services according to local needs, a charity warned.
Many integrated care boards (ICBs) considered allergy services to be the responsibility of general practice or of secondary care, putting an extra burden on GPs and increasing hospital waits, according to Allergy UK , which urged the Government to heed its call to introduce specialist allergy nurses and dietitians in primary care.
A freedom of information request made to ICBs by the charity revealed that 93% of the NHS commissioning bodies did not hold data on how many people in their area were affected by allergic conditions and that 40% believed holding this information was the responsibility of GPs and hospital trusts.
Allergy was the most reported chronic health condition in the UK, affecting around 30% of men and 36% of women, according to figures collated by the Office for National Statistics in 2022 . According to Allergy UK, 8% of all GP appointments relate to allergy, whilst hospital admissions related to allergic disease have risen by 615% in the last 20 years.
'Allergy Needs to be Taken More Seriously'
Simone Miles, Allergy UK's chief executive officer, said: "Allergy needs to be taken more seriously by our healthcare system. Its prevalence in society is growing and our healthcare system is inadequately addressing the issue of allergy because there isn't enough specialist allergy knowledge at a GP level. This results in delayed diagnosis and effective management plans for patients whilst taking up more GP time than is necessary, with a knock-on effect for anyone wanting to get time with a GP for other conditions."
Some research has suggested positive benefits from primary care allergy services, including results from a research project conducted by the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian . In the 30-month trial, which began in 2017, two specialist allergy nurses, aided by local hospital specialists, supported 35 GP practices. The data indicated improvements in patient care, as well as higher levels of satisfaction for both patients and healthcare professionals, but recommended follow-up research to confirm the findings.
Such an approach would make first-contact consultations more cost-effective whilst freeing up GP time, Allergy UK said in its latest statement.
Allergy Care of 'Utmost Importance': DHSC
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We're increasing the expert care available in GP settings and have almost hit our target of delivering 26,000 additional primary care staff who are providing care directly to patients – including those with allergies – or supporting doctors and nurses to do so."
The spokesperson added that safe and accessible care for people with allergies was of "utmost importance" and highlighted an allergy e-learning online resource that was available to doctors via the Royal College of GPs.