Ethnic variations in asthma hospital admission, readmission and death: a retrospective, national cohort study of 4.62 million people in Scotland

Aziz Sheikh*, Markus F. C. Steiner, Genevieve Cezard, Narinder Bansal, Colin Fischbacher, Colin R. Simpson, Anne Douglas, Raj Bhopal, SHELS Researchers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Our previous meta-analysis found that South Asians and Blacks in the UK were at a substantially increased risk of hospital admission from asthma. These estimates were, however, derived from pooling data from a limited number of now dated studies, confined to only three very broad ethnic groups (i.e. Whites, South Asians and Blacks) and failed to take account of possible sex-related differences in outcomes within these ethnic groups. We undertook the first study investigating ethnic variations in asthma outcomes across an entire population.


This retrospective 9-year cohort study linked Scotland’s hospitalisation/death records on asthma to the 2001 census (providing ethnic group). We calculated age, country of birth and Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation adjusted incident rate ratios (IRRs) for hospitalisation or death by sex for the period May 2001–2010. We calculated hazard ratios (HRs) for asthma readmission and subsequent asthma death.


We were able to link data on 4.62 million people (91.8 % of the Scottish population), yielding over 38 million patient-years of data, 1,845 asthma deaths, 113,795 first asthma admissions, and 107,710 readmissions (40,075 of which were for asthma). There were substantial ethnic variations in the rate of hospitalisation/death in both males and females. When compared to the reference Scottish White population, the highest age-adjusted rates were in Pakistani males (IRR = 1.59; 95 % CI, 1.30–1.94) and females (IRR = 1.50; 95 % CI, 1.06–2.11) and Indian males (IRR = 1.34; 95 % CI, 1.16–1.54), and the lowest were seen in Chinese males (IRR = 0.62; 95 % CI, 0.41–0.94) and females (IRR = 0.49; 95 % CI, 0.39–0.61).


There are very substantial ethnic variations in hospital admission/deaths from asthma in Scotland, with Pakistanis having the worst and Chinese having the best outcomes. Cultural factors, including self-management and health seeking behaviours, and variations in the quality of primary care provision are the most likely explanations for these differences and these now need to be formally investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBMC medicine
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank our SHELS collaborators at NHS Information Services Division and at National Records Scotland and the SHELS Phase 3 Steering Group. We acknowledge input to this report from Jenny Holmes, SHELS Study assistant. AS was supported by The Commonwealth Fund, a private independent foundation based in New York City. The views presented here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Commonwealth Fund, its directors, officers, or staff. AS is Director of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research; he also acknowledges the support of the Farr Institute.

Contributors from the Scottish Health and Ethnicity Linkage Study research team: these contributors served on the Steering Group and some on other important subgroups of SHELS, and therefore gave general direction that helped this analysis. Chris Povey was a co-applicant and the originator of the idea of linking the census data to the data held by ISD and he performed most of the linkage work, including developing linkage methods. Prof Jamie Pearce (co-applicant) advised especially on socioeconomic adjustment. Duncan Buchanan (co-applicant) chaired the analysis subgroup. Ganka Mueller (part study), Alex Stannard (part study) and Kirsty MacLachlan advised particularly in relation to National Records of Scotland contributions. These important contributions did not meet ICMJE authorship requirements.

Chief Scientist’s Office of the Scottish Government, British Lung Foundation and NHS Health Scotland.


  • asthma
  • death
  • epidemiology
  • ethnic variations
  • hospital admission


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