Asthma patients are going to be guided by others with the disease on how best to manage their illness.
A study will monitor how well the scheme works.
Research has shown that educating asthma patients about how to manage their condition reduces the asthma attacks and hospitalisations, helping patients and reducing costs to the NHS.
But doctors and nurses often do not have enough time to train patients fully.
Researchers say only 3% of asthma patients in the UK are given action plans to enable them to control their disease - lower than any other country in Europe, even though expert guidance says every patient should have one.
Around five million people have asthma in the UK. They go for around four million consultations in primary care.
Asthma was linked to nearly 74,000 emergency admissions to hospitals in the UK in 1999.
And an estimated 18 million working days are lost because of the condition every year.
The ?330,000 study will use people who either had asthma themselves or care for children with the condition, to train 600 patients in London, Manchester and Cheshire to manage their own condition.
Trainers will undergo a course at the National Respiratory Training Centre before advising patients.
They will then be followed up after 12 months to see if the training has made a difference.
Martyn Partridge, professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, who is leading the research, told BBC News Online: “If patients are taught how to look after their own condition, it could dramatically reduce hospitalisations and symptoms in the day and night, and the time off work or school.”
He said if doctors and nurses did not have enough time to construct asthma management plans, it was worth exploring if other people could take on the role.
“Could we explore the possibility of working with trained lay people, who have the condition themselves, to teach them the skills they need?
“The evidence from other research is that, whoever gives patients the skills they need, it’s associated with significant savings in health service costs.
“For every ?1 spent on patient education in asthma, around 10 times that is recouped in direct and indirect costs.”
Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, medical director of Bupa, which is funding the study, said, “There is a lot of talk about the patient as a consumer, but there has been little research on patient involvement in healthcare.”
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.