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MPs warn of need to do more to tackle respiratory diseases

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Action needs to be taken now to stop people dying needlessly from respiratory disease, MPs have warned.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Respiratory Health has highlighted that the UK has the worst death rate amongst OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries for respiratory disease.

Stephen McPartland, chair of the APPG on Respiratory Health, stated: “The time has come for the government and the NHS to give respiratory disease the priority it deserves. Good respiratory care reduces hospital admissions, is cost-effective and is already outlined in existing documents.

“However, the investment that has already been made in developing these standards, guidelines and incentives – and even an Outcomes Strategy – will not bear fruit without a concerted system-wide effort to implement them,” he said.

In its study of death rates from respiratory disease in OECD countries, the APPG report found that the rate of people dying in the UK is 104.9 people per 100,000 of the population.

This compares with 56.1 per 100,000 of the population in Germany and around three times the rate of Finland which is 31.5 per 100,000 of the population there.


Stephen McPartland MP, chair of the APPG on respiratory health and Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation

Respiratory disease is the third biggest cause of death in the UK, killing around 80,000 people a year with lung cancer, the UK’s biggest cancer killer, killing a further 35,000. It is also the reason for around a million hospital admissions a year.

Both cancer and circulatory disease have benefitted from improvement programmes over the last 20 years, while respiratory disease has suffered from long-term under-prioritisation and investment, the report shows.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease, kills around 30,000 people a year in the UK. This is more than any form of cancer other than lung cancer, the APPG found.

Children are dying of asthma attacks even though evidence shows the majority of these can be prevented, the report notes.

Treating respiratory disease costs the NHS an estimated £4.7 billion a year but investment in clinical services and research for respiratory disease is disproportionate to the threat it poses to people’s lives, and the consequential cost to the NHS, it was claimed.

The MPs state that a 2011 COPD and Asthma Outcomes Strategy had no implementation programme behind it so its influence has been held back and there is a stark lack of effective clinical data on respiratory disease which means the NHS is not even able to consistently track its own performance on respiratory health.

“NHS England and the Department of Health absolutely have to prioritise respiratory conditions at a national level”

Bernard Higgins

The MPs called for a national drive to increase awareness among patients and healthcare professionals that respiratory conditions can be life-threatening.

This new report comes just weeks after the Royal College of Physicians National Review of Asthma Deaths found a wide-ranging culture of complacency in asthma care. There were prescribing errors in 47% of asthma deaths and room for improvement in the care received by 83% of those who died.

Dr Bernard Higgins, chair of the British Thoracic Society and consultant physician at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, said: “I am particularly keen to see action taken that will result in long-term ongoing benefits to people whose lives are affected by respiratory conditions, which is why I agree that NHS England and the Department of Health absolutely have to prioritise respiratory conditions at a national level.

“It is vital that they invest in a strategic clinical network for respiratory conditions to ensure coordination and integration of care, and an intelligence network to ensure the data is available to improve care and stop so many people dying.”

Asthma UK’s chief executive Kay Boycott said: “This report reinforces the findings of last month’s National Review of Asthma Deaths that people with asthma are dying unnecessarily; this has to stop. We desperately need leadership at every tier of the health system across the UK to challenge the complacency about asthma and prevent these attacks.”

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dr Penny Woods believes the impact of respiratory disease remains “shamefully neglected” in this country and that without government and NHS action “we risk sleepwalking into a major health crisis”.


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