We spoke with Dr. Mike Thomas as part of our series of interviews with allergy and asthma experts across the UK. It is our hope that reading about these physicians' practices or research work, their favored asthma treatments, and what they have to say about the future of treatments will provide you with valuable insight into your own options of controlling your allergy and asthma symptoms.
Dr. Mike Thomas trained in medicine in London. After several junior hospital posts, including a time working on a hospital chest unit, Dr. Thomas became a GP in the Cotswolds in 1989. He also works a clinic a week in the local hospital chest unit outpatient's clinic. For the other 50% of his time, Dr. Thomas is the Asthma UK Senior Research Fellow with the University of Aberdeen. He undertakes research in asthma, allergy and other lung diseases, and has published over 70 research papers in medical journals. Dr. Thomas is the Chief Medical Advisor to the charity Asthma UK, and sits on the various UK and international guideline groups. He is an advisor to the Department of Health on asthma, and sits on a number of national committees.
Dr. Mike Thomas' research is concerned with improving asthma care in the general practice. These days most people suffering with asthma and allergies are mainly treated in general practice, and there is a great need to improve treatment in the community. Dr. Thomas' research aims to find out how GPs and nurses can give better care to people with asthma and allergy.
Dr. Thomas has a particular interest in non-drug treatments, including the use of breathing exercises to control asthma. He has also published research on allergic rhinitis, a common and often ignored allergic condition, which often exists alongside asthma.
A Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Dr. Thomas was awarded a PhD for his research on breathing exercises for asthma.
Allergy Cosmos: How big is your practice?
I work in a 4-partner practice serving 8000 patients in rural Gloucestershire. I've worked here for over 20 years, at first as a full-time GP, but for the last 10 years (since I've been more involved with research) working half-time as a GP and half-time as a researcher.
I'm lucky to live and work in a lovely part of the country with a stable population - I've known most of my patients for many years, and some of them for all their lives!
I am also a member of the Department of Academic Primary Care at the University of Aberdeen, part of a research team specialising in asthma, allergy and lung research in GP settings. My main research interest is in asthma, but I am also interested in allergic rhinitis and respiratory infections - and, of course, in the large overlap between these conditions
What do you love about your job?
I enjoy treating patients and getting to know them over time - the great attraction of general practice is that you form a close personal link with your patients over the years. I would very much miss my clinical work if I went into 'full-time' research. I also think that seeing patients regularly allows me to be a better researcher, and allows me to focus in on the really important questions.
However, I also love research, which I view as a truly creative activity of the human mind and soul. It's very rewarding when one's research results in a tangible change for the better for one's patients. I also enjoy being able to help represent the patient's perspective through my work with Asthma UK, and to try to influence the Department of Health to shape good respiratory and allergy care in the UK
If you could suggest one thing for (your) patients what would it be?
I would like to see a cure for asthma! However, I don't think this is likely in the near future.
What is your favourite allergy relief product?
We are lucky to have excellent inhaled treatments for asthma, and inhaled steroids have had a dramatic effect in saving lives and improving people's quality of life in my lifetime. I know that some people worry about side effects, but when used properly they have an excellent benefit to safety profile. Having said that, many people still get bad asthma symptoms despite such treatment, and we are still in real need of new treatments.
Where do you see allergy treatment going in the future?
There is still so much that we don't understand about why allergy is so common in the modern world, but we are making steady inroads into understanding the complicated interaction between our genetic makeup and the environment we inhabit. I think that the way asthma and allergy treatment is headed is in recognising that everyone is different and that it's unlikely that a 'one size fits all' approach will be successful. The future is likely to be targeted treatments for specific people after careful assessment - so-called 'personalised medicine'
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Allergy has been sadly ignored for many years, and there is a great need to prioritise allergy research and allergy treatment. Allergy is a real blight on many people's lives, and many people in the UK don't have access to the best assessments and treatments. This needs to change!
We completely agree. Thank you for your time Dr. Mike Thomas.