New Zealand has higher mortality and hospital admission rates for asthma than England and Wales. To determine the reasons for this the available data on asthma mortality and hospital admissions from the Auckland region of New Zealand were compared with data from the South West Thames Region of England for 1979-86 and data from previous surveys on prevalence of wheeze (Auckland 1985, Croydon 1978). In addition, a survey of general practitioners was carried out to determine their approach to the management of asthma, patient simulations being used. Asthma mortality in children of European descent aged 5-14 years was 2.5 times higher in Auckland than in South West Thames. The reported lifetime, 12 month, and one month prevalences of wheeze were also higher in Auckland (by 18.5%, 32.1%, and 87.5%). Unexpectedly, the hospital admission rate for asthma in children of European descent aged 5-14 years was 5% less in Auckland than in South West Thames. Comparative studies of hospital case notes and of the replies from general practitioners showed that in Auckland the duration of illness before admission was greater and that general practitioners were less likely to admit patients with acute asthma. The overall standard of general practitioner care in Auckland was, if anything, higher than in South West Thames but in both areas there was considerable variation. On balance it was concluded that the higher mortality rate in New Zealand is explained by higher levels of morbidity rather than relative deficiencies in care. Nevertheless, the implications of the lesser use of hospital care for acute asthma observed in Auckland need further consideration.
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