People with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome who drive vehicles for a living should be able to complete treatment and return to work within four weeks of referral, according to a campaign group.
The Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Partnership Group, which aims to raise awareness of OSAS, wants to see fast-tracked treatment for vocational drivers to encourage more of them to come forward if they experience symptoms.
Around 5% of the UK adult population is affected by OSAS, which causes excessive sleepiness and, for professional drivers, can mean they are up to nine times more likely to cause a road traffic accident than someone without the condition.
“We believe that by expediting treatment we can reduce the fear [of reporting symptoms] and therefore encourage drivers to get treatment”
Professor John Stradling
The condition is particularly common among middle aged men – especially those who are overweight – a group that is often found within the heavy good vehicle industry, according to the OSA Partnership Group.
However, campaigners claim that people working in the transport industry are “extremely reluctant” to report any symptoms that they believe could mean they will lose their driving licence as in the past many have faced suspension or dismissal by their employers.
It claimed the provision of the most common treatment for the condition – Continuous Positive Air Pressure – “varies widely” widely across the UK from a few weeks to several months.
This was despite a technology appraisal carried out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2008, which concluded CPAP should be available to all who required the treatment, said the campaign group.
“We believe that this campaign will provide drivers and their employers with a clear indication of how long a driver can expect to be off the road”
Launching its Four-Week Wait Campaign today, the group – which includes the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, leading sleep clinicians and patient organisations – has called on the government to issue guidance to clinical commissioning groups, hospitals and GPs to speed up treatment for drivers.
Professor John Stradling, a member of the OSA Partnership Group and author of the campaign paper, said: “Through the collaborative work our group has undertaken with the transport industry, we believe that by expediting treatment we can reduce this fear and therefore encourage drivers to get the treatment that will allow them to drive safely, and considerably benefit their quality of life.”
Bill Johnston, chair of Sleep Apnoea Trust, which is a member of the OSA Partnership Group, added: “We believe that this campaign will provide drivers and their employers with a clear indication of how long a driver can expect to be off the road and therefore enable contingency plans to be put in place.
“The alternative, particularly in light of the growing prevalence of sleep apnoea, is to risk an increase in road traffic accidents and more deaths on our roads,” he said.